“There are two things that we are exceptional at here at Midcoast Aviation. We build relationships with our customers and we have a very comprehensive backshop capability,” Kurt Sutterer, executive vice president of the Cahokia, Ill. company, told AIN.
The full-service FBO, Sutterer said, is best known for its maintenance and completions services. He said, “We’re producing more than a million man-hours a year in those two areas, and without a doubt it is our relationship building with our customers that makes us a success. We spend a lot of time investing in developing relationships between our front-line people and our customers’ flight department and maintenance directors.”
Midcoast doesn’t stop at developing good relationships with customers. The company has a philosophy that stresses employees must understand how to deal with one another. Sutterer explained, “Technically you can train anyone to do a really good job if you provide the appropriate infrastructure. The thing you can’t do is artificially create an environment where the customer feels comfortable and trusts that you’re telling him the truth. That is the result of our relationships with one another and with our customers.”
To personalize customer interaction, the company has managers who each specialize in a particular product line. They are more than just experts on a given airframe. “A product line manager is an expert on pricing and negotiating the value of a service,” Sutterer said, “but he also provides service beyond the customer’s technical needs. For instance, if a customer is going to be in St. Louis for a while, the product line manager will help him make necessary arrangements.”
Sutterer said many customers establish a relationship with a specific product line manager and always request that person. “That’s fine, but we do maintain a lot of soft information about our customers so that any product line manager can go to our database and find out specifics about a given customer to help make the interaction more personal and efficient,” he said.
Serving Corporate Aviation
Midcoast Aviation has done some work for the military, particularly major structural repair work, but that’s a niche market it’s developing. Midcoast’s predominant customer base operates Gulfstreams, Falcons, Raytheon products (mostly Hawkers) and Bombardier products. “We’re an authorized service center for Dassault, Raytheon and Bombardier, including the Global–Midcoast is the only Global authorized service center in the U.S. Gulfstream does not [authorize] service centers,” Sutterer said.
“We also do completions on all those product lines as well as retrofits, such as upgrading interiors or avionics, on many different aircraft. But so far we do only full-blown green completions on Bombardier products. To date we’ve done about fifty 604 completions in collaboration with Bombardier.”
According to Sutterer, maintenance service revenues are fairly evenly split among the four most common OEM product lines the facility serves. Sutterer did say that Midcoast has recently noted growth in the Bombardier line following the company’s designation as a Global service center. “We’ve been seeing a lot of Challengers lately, and the recently added Global service center has created a whole new client base for us,” he explained. “In a given week we’re seeing three to five Globals for maintenance or other services,” he said.
Despite an extended down economy, the volume of Midcoast’s maintenance services, inspections and tech appraisals grew 18 percent annually for the last two-and-a-half years, according to Sutterer. “We’ve also been adding 20 percent to our customer base every year for the past five years. The completions side of our business did go soft for a while but we’re now on a heavy upswing.”
Sutterer said one of the things that makes Midcoast stand out among its peers is the depth of the organization. “It took us 30 years to get here and it’s not repeatable overnight. I know it’s a cliché, but we really are a one-stop shop. A customer can get his airplane serviced, repaired and repainted and get a new, custom-designed interior. We are a very vertically integrated company.”
Midcoast Aviation has a huge backshop capacity. “We offer everything there is to do on a corporate jet–nose to tail,” Sutterer said. “We do very little outsourcing. For instance, we do engine overhaul through an affiliate but for the most part everything else is done in-house. We do all our own engineering and certification. We also recently received FAA approval as a designated alteration station, so we can now issue supplemental type certificates. We don’t even buy our composite shells and pieces for interior work. All of our cabinetry is engineered and built here.”
Sutterer explained the benefits of performing most of its work in-house. “We can do things that are not typically available in a smaller organization because we control every aspect of the process. We don’t have to wait for some supplier to get around to our order and, more important, when a customer wants some variation, we have the engineering staff and authority to make the changes in a fraction of the time that would be required with an outside vendor,” he noted.
Sutterer said Midcoast Aviation has a portfolio of intellectual property worth millions of dollars and it uses it to carve out niche markets. “For instance, we developed an RVSM solution for the Hawker 700,” he explained. “Certainly there are competing solutions, but we don’t look at it from that perspective. We see the RVSM solution as a long-term investment because it brings customers through the door and we know that we’re typically going to get more business out of them over the long term such as maintenance, upgrades, paint, interior work and so on.”
Midcoast Aviation has four facilities located at St. Louis Downtown Airport, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Spirit of St. Louis Airport and Perryville Municipal Airport. Combined, it has more than 500,000 sq ft of hangar, backshop and office space. The company has 800 employees and plans to hire 100 more by the end of the year. It is also scheduled to open a new 46,320-sq-ft paint hangar with downdraft air makeup system at its St. Louis Downtown facility this fall.