MRO – aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul – dates back to the early 1970s. That’s when commercial airlines decided that performing third-party contracted repairs would keep technicians busy and productive during idle periods between in-house maintenance work. Few opportunities existed for independent providers until financial pressures forced the airline industry to reduce costs and, subsequently, outsource to MRO specialists.
Independent MROS leverage volume and specialization and perform work at locations strategic to airlines, but with reduced labor and set-up costs.
Aviation Repair Technologies (ART) is one such independent enterprise. ART was founded in 2008 in Blytheville, Ark., at the former Eaker Air Force base, which was converted to the commercial Arkansas International Airport in 1992. The main facility currently comprises five hangars and an 11,000-foot runway, and 200 employees service 10 lines of aircraft. It runs two shifts, seven days a week, and boasts a three-week turnaround on most common repair work. ART, which boasts 30,000 square feet of office space, is the principal tenant. Assets include a jet engine test cell capable of testing engines with up to 56,000 pounds of thrust. ART also maintains support centers in Palm Beach and Tallahassee (in Florida), and in Nashville, Tenn. and Cincinnati, Ohio. It also has a logistics and sales center in Miami.
“Like everyone else, the recession hasn’t helped our business,” says ART President and Chief Executive Officer Ben Quevedo. “In fact, we started right in the middle of the recession. But we believed in our business model, and we knew a need existed for a regional aircraft maintenance provider, particularly for airlines that service the Caribbean and South America. Our company is centrally located to fulfill the wide range of maintenance services these regional airlines require. We can provide these services much more cost effectively than they could on their own.”
ART offers maintenance services for turboprop (ATR 42, ATR 72 and Dash 8/Q Series), regional jet (Canadair CRJ and Embraer ERJ) and narrow body commercial aircraft (Boeing 737 and MD80). These services include heavy airframe maintenance, component repair, line maintenance, aircraft storage and disassembly, and rotable sales and logistics.
Heavy airframe maintenance entails a variety of engineering services that include aircraft reconfiguration, avionics modification and upgrade, fuel tank inspection and repair, seat modification, cargo conversions, as well as interior, composite, sheet metal and accessory repairs.
As a certified Federal Aviation Administration repair station and a European Aviation Safety Agency-approved provider, ART is permitted to perform repairs on propellers, power plants and various components (e.g., wings, windows, doors, water/waste systems). Further, ART is authorized to repair airframes made by Aerospatiale, Airbus, Beechjet, Boeing, Bombardier, Cessna, Embraer and McDonnell Douglas.
Maintenance services include A, B and C checks, and overnight and daily maintenance. In addition to its maintenance station at Arkansas International, ART has a network of four aircraft line maintenance stations at the Palm Beach International, Nashville International, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, and Tallahassee Regional airports.
“We can accommodate a large number of aircraft in short-term storage and also offer on-site aircraft parts storage and inventory management,” adds Quevedo. “Through our extension in Miami, which is located close to Miami International Airport, we offer consignment sales arrangements and on-site storage to help liquidate surplus parts for our customers.”
NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND JOBS CREATION
The airline industry continues to fly under severe financial weather conditions. Quevedo believes that new technology will help the industry land safely. “One of the driving trends is improved fuel efficiency, as the cost of fuel continues rising,” he says. “Just as in a car, wherever you can use lighter composite materials in place of heavier materials, you can improve fuel consumption,”
Another trend involves more user-friendly avionics. “Customers want systems that make the plane easier to fly and, at the same time, improve safety,” he says. “Our customers will always be looking for new equipment that performs more efficiently while improving the ride and safety of the aircraft. Modifying an existing aircraft with new technology is usually cheaper than buying a new one to get the same level of technological improvement.”
ART is ramping up to employ 300 people by the end of the year, and it expects to double that to 600 by the end of 2014. “We’re proud to contribute significant job creation to the Arkansas economy,” Quevedo says. “We’ve qualified for state funds to provide the appropriate training for local personnel. We are also in a joint program with Northwest Arkansas Community College to certify aviation technicians.”
The program will soon graduate its first class.
“Having qualified labor readily available will provide us a huge competitive advantage. It will help us implement our expansion plans,” comments Quevedo.
ART’s experienced technicians maintain or repair aircraft – both at Blytheville and at remote stations in key locations – to avoid costly downtime. “Our goal,” emphasizes Quevedo, “is to be the leader in providing customers with an array of cost-effective services tailored to their needs.”
The company’s strategy is simple, he says: “Invest in our people to build a great team. Invest in technology to enhance services and quality. Finally, build a culture of continuous improvement.”