A regional fixed-base operation that grew into an internationally-recognized maintenance and manufacturing facility is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Atlantic Aero, formed in response to customer dissatisfaction with an existing FBO provider in Greensboro, N.C., will hold an anniversary celebration at its booth (No. 2569) today at 3:30 p.m.
“A group of investors decided to start their own rival FBO and looked around the country for a model operation for their business to emulate,” said Jim Spinder, Atlantic Aero general manager. FBO owner John Godwin was brought in as a consultant; he later sold his business in Cape Girardeau, Mo. to become Atlantic Aero’s first CEO.
The company established its facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport in 1972, offering Learjet 24B charters and management services, in addition to fuel sales and maintenance services. In the years that followed, the company’s maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business grew to include manufacturers such as Bombardier, Dassault and Cessna. The company received DAS/ODA certification in 1997.
Atlantic Aero soon diversified into other areas, including parts design and production, and even air freight operations. Mid-Atlantic Freight, which at its peak operated 25 Cessna Caravans throughout the Southeastern U.S., helped Atlantic Aero earn a five-state territory for Caravan sales and support. The freight operation later merged with Addison, Texas-based Martinaire.
One of the more interesting Atlantic Aero subsidiaries was Godwin Aircraft, a small research and development offshoot formed in 1982, which ultimately led to the company’s role in the development of the Questair Venture two-seat homebuilt airplane. While Questair didn’t survive long-term, lessons learned with the Venture and other manufacturing programs led indirectly to the highest-profile project to date for Atlantic Aero, and a tale Spinder termed “one of the strangest stories you might ever hear.”
When a mutual friend advised the company of Honda’s interest in partnering with an American company to build a proof-of-concept jet, Atlantic Aero focused its efforts to impress the Japanese manufacturer. “Honda visited us in 1998. After they left, we didn’t hear anything else from them for a year,” Spinder recalled. “We couldn’t believe it when they called in 1999 and said ‘we have selected you to be our partner.’ We had assumed they’d gone elsewhere!”
Atlantic Aero broke ground in 2000 on a 25,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility for the prototype HondaJet and also assisted with Honda’s initial plan to also develop its own engines. While the company is no longer affiliated with the HondaJet as the program moves towards production, the experience allows Atlantic Aero to bill itself as one of the only FBOs employing a Catia 3-D modeling system to design aircraft components.
Now owned by Greenwich AeroGroup, Atlantic Aero provides airframe parts, interior component and cabinetry work and maintenance service for a wide variety of business aircraft. “We started very small and evolved to support a diverse range of aircraft types,” said Timothy Bolton, a quality assurance technician employed by Atlantic Aero for 39 of its 40 years. “Before Atlantic Aero, I’d been with several companies, but I could see right away this was the right place to be.” –R.F.