Volume 15 | Issue 3 | Year 2012

Formed in 1958, but with roots dating back to modern aviation’s beginnings, Hawker Pacific Aerospace focuses on landing gears. For good reason: Landing gears are an aircraft’s legs and wheels, providing smooth take-off and landing. They absorb enormous strain and, as such, need perfection as far as performance. Perfection requires the most dependable maintenance services. That’s what Hawker offers. The Sun Valley, Calif.-based company’s innovative maintenance services and overhaul processes keep customers safely airborne.
A world-leading landing gear service provider, Hawker Pacific Aerospace continually shifts focus to remain on the cutting edge. Think “lean” – and efficiency.

“Recent years haven’t witnessed much significant innovation on the overhaul process,” says Hawker Pacific Aerospace Sales Specialist Nancy Yu. “Rather, the industry focuses on making processes more cost effective and efficient. That’s what we try to do, by bolstering focus on ‘Lean’ principles.”

This new direction resulted from customer response. For sure, “Lean” is no longer a corporate “flavor of the month.” Introduced in the United States in the 1980s, it is now deeply imbedded in the manufacturing landscape. The “left behinds” are those that ignore.

Consider Yu’s observation: “We increased our focus on ‘Lean’ because of the increasing pressures our customers face, particularly related to price. From all sides, they experience demand to push prices down. ‘Lean’ – combined with our 100-percent in-house operation – helps. We’ve become more efficient to help our customers become more efficient and, in turn, increase their profit margins.”

Not to mention Hawker’s own profitability.

The company’s client roster includes aviation industry aces. Indeed, its international customer base includes commercial airlines, air cargo operators, domestic government agencies, aircraft leasing companies, aircraft parts distributors and OEMs. The company supports aircrafts made by Aerospatiale, Airbus, BAE Systems, Bell, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer, Eurocopter Lockheed, Raytheon and Sikorsky, among others. Specific services include landing gear repair and overhaul, landing gear exchange, component repair and overhaul, engineering support, PMA development, back-to-birth traceability, life-limited part tracking, spare parts support and on-wing support.

Whatever clients need, Hawker embraces. “The ‘Lean’ focus serves us well for now,” says Yu, “but we’re always looking for the next greater cost-saving method.”

New direction represents the next chapter of a narrative that is Dickensian in length – and like a Dickens novel, it includes colorful characters and numerous plot turns. Today, the Hawker Pacific Aerospace Sun Valley operation is a 100-percent owned subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik AG and part of that company’s landing gear division. While its current status resulted from recent transactions, Hawker Pacific Aerospace possesses roots that date back nearly as far as aviation’s beginnings. In fact, the Hawker portion of the company name comes from famed test pilot and industry hall-of-famer Harry Hawker, a “right stuff ” flyer with a storied history. According to reports, he took to the air a mere seven years after the Wright Brothers launched their world-changing aircraft, receiving his flight training from aviation pioneer Sir Thomas Sopwith, inventor of the Sopwith Camel, a British World War I single-seat fighter biplane renowned for its maneuverability. Walker became Sopwith’s best test pilot.

Subsequently, Walker not only set early aviation records; he helped design early examples of aircrafts and then took his aviation acumen into a successful business venture.

After World War I, Hawker and partners gained control of Sopwith’s patent rights and formed Hawker Engineering. In 1921, Hawker died from injuries sustained in an airplane crash, and his former mentor became Hawker Engineering’s chairman.

With Sopwith at the controls, Hawker Engineering acquired other aviation companies as the industry continued growing. In the 1930s, Hawker Engineering became Hawker Aircraft Ltd. and then the Hawker Siddeley Company (which produced Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires). Between the two major wars, the company produced a line of bombers and fighter planes for Britain’s Royal Air Force and helped the empire win the air-focused Battle of Britain.

Subsequently, various permutations transpired, resulting in the formation of Hawker Pacific Inc. In the meantime, the Sun Valley operation was founded as Stellar Hydraulics in 1958. Almost 30 years later, it became part of the Hawker fold.

Ultimately, Lufthansa Technik, a subsidiary of Deutsche Lufthansa, acquired complete ownership of Hawker Pacific in 2002. Lufthansa Technik is one of the top global MRO corporations, and the acquisition brought Hawker into a worldwide network, enabling it to access the attributes of several international locations and to service customers locally in different parts of the world.

That steers us to today, and the company’s latest chapter, wherein it is applying “Lean” principles to areas such as production, cross training, automation, and company transparency.

“As far as production control, we’re reducing the number of vendors while increasing the work for existing vendors,” describes Yu. “Fewer vendors in the picture mean stronger relationships with existing vendors. We’re narrowing things down to one vendor per category, whether that involves bushing supplies, chemicals or paints. In turn, this translates into stronger business partnerships, better contracts and more efficient turnaround.”

Turnaround Time (TAT) is critical, Yu indicates. Quick turnaround helped make Hawker Pacific Aerospace an industry leader. Within the field, customers not only seek but require quick turnaround times. The company has demonstrated the capability to make that happen easily. Again, this involves customers’ concerns about costs.

Further, invigorated focus on efficiency is underscored by these descriptors: steady flow, transparency, traceability. “We’re sure of where everything is during every step of the process,” reports Yu. “There’s no chaos. The more smooth the process, the more efficient. Everything is ready for the next step. We’re never caught off guard. An entire workforce shift will never have to wait a week for a part that holds things up. We make sure that never happens.”

Good thing. Delays create penalties, Yu indicates; not legal but financial and reputational. “As far as finances, you’re talking about thousands of dollars a day,” she says. “But reputation is even more important. We promise customers a specific time frame. We have to uphold that promise. If we don’t, we lose credibility and, in turn, business.”

The faster the company is, the better it is. But quality isn’t sacrificed upon the altar of speed.

Yu addresses the other elements that come into the equation:

  • Cross training – “We offer opportunities for employees to enhance their existing skill sets. Cross training provides them flexibility. In turn, that provides the company with flexibility between departments. When we enjoy peaks and suffer valleys, we can better utilize workforce power.”
  • Automation – This gets back to innovation. “Automation is really about machinery, and there aren’t too many things out there that can be machined that haven’t already been machined,” says Yu. “But when new technology comes out, we’ll look at it and see if it provides us value. If so, we’ll take advantage. Also, with automation and machinery, we’ll place the technology in such a way that one person can take care of multiple pieces of equipment. This is an efficiency-increasing measure that reduces work power and speeds up turnaround time.”

So it comes down to process improvement. “And that’s a matter of investment. If there’s a process that can be automated, that’s what we try and do,” says Yu.

For sure, time takes time – and time is a slow moving train. “Don’t think of this as a quick fix,” she advises. “Savings won’t be readily visible in the short term. Time saved, though it is one of the ultimate rewards, is not an immediate reward.”

But patience has its rewards. Payoff is substantial, both for company and customer.

Yu describes the source of Hawker Pacific Aerospace’s industrial inspiration. “Our role model is Mr. Hawker, but in the business sense it is the corporation’s Hamburg, Germany location,” she points out. “It has developed a very streamlined process that demonstrates the highest efficiency levels. This may be cultural, or it may be technical. When Hamburg implements something, results are readily apparent. In turn, we see something that we can implement to our benefit.”

As with the best of companies, Hawker Pacific is a great mimicker. It doesn’t feel that it needs to reinvent the wheel. The wheel is a great paradigm, and Hawker embraces what works best. “We mimic as best we can. Our organizational leader constantly receives training overseas and then brings back the best ideas and the best practices, and we implement the learnings into our system and production processes. Our goal is to become more efficient, and our sister companies provide us the example – indeed the standard. They’ve done it, and we can do it, too.”

This doesn’t mean a sky-high reach. “It’s within arm’s reach,” says Yu. “We’re talking about improvements that provide us with realistic and reachable goals, within our hands, and which we envision in the next two years.”

So what will be the next chapter in this ongoing narrative? What does the company perceive beyond the next two years?

“We want to be more active in the regional jet section,” reveals Yu. “Right now, we are very stable – with relationships with Boeing and Airbus – but we’d like to see a bit more growth in the regional area. But it’s a difficult area to enter, because OEMs have a strong grip on that sector. For us, it’s a chicken-or-egg conundrum. We need to be contracted with a customer before the OEM gives us any support. Conversely, customers aren’t immediately willing to provide the business without knowing the MRO has the support of the OEM.”

Another growth area it targets is the BBJs. “These BBJ’s are B737 New Generation aircrafts privately owned by VIPs, and are already part of the first overhaul cycle,” reports Yu. “There are not many out there. Our focus is on the B737NG in general, but we do toss in a few extra services for the BBJ customers. Due to the drastically low time and cycles on these privately owned planes, we offer very short, closed-loop turnarounds, so that these hardly-used planes can get their hardly-used gears back.”

For Hawker Pacific Aerospace, 40,000 feet is merely cruising level, and this confident company doesn’t even carry a parachute.

Fasten seatbelts and hang on tight. Hawker is aiming eight miles high. Smell the ozone. That’s the sweet scent of success.

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