When philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche penned “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” in the late 19th century, it’s safe to say he didn’t have JetCorp in mind. But the statement certainly applies to the MRO company. Born of thoughtful planning and execution, the company fell victim to an unpredictable, devastating circumstance and emerged even stronger.
The company began in the 1980s when COO Doug McCollum, then a pilot for Anheuser-Busch, was approached by two friends who wanted to start an on-demand charter operation out of Spirit of St. Louis (SUS) Airport in Chesterfield, Mo.
McCollum said one friend was a furloughed airline pilot and the other had been involved in the local area media; both felt his maintenance experience would be a valuable asset.
“While I enjoyed working for Anheuser-Busch I had a craving to be more in control of my life, to be able to build something of my own,” McCollum said. “So in 1981 the three of us formed United Executive Jet to offer on-demand charter service operating a Learjet 24, Learjet 25 and King Air E90.” Eventually the call that every furloughed airline pilot waits for came, and McCollum found himself in a two-person partnership.
“Things were going fine, but eventually my partner felt the urge to go back into the broadcast media, and in 1985 I became sole owner of United Executive Jet. I was flying charters, overseeing fleet maintenance and generally running a business that had grown to about 28 employees,” McCollum said. “There were a lot of long days, but business was good and the company was doing very well. I’d always felt the company name was a bit cumbersome, so I changed it to JetCorp.”
In 1992 a major St. Louis corporate flight department approached McCollum about the possibility of JetCorp taking a contract to maintain its fleet. “They knew that we’d developed a pretty extensive shop and the expertise to meet their needs. As it happened, I knew Jim Saffley, an exec with the company that had been maintaining their fleet. I called and asked him if he’d be interested in becoming a JetCorp partner to expand the company’s maintenance capacity to accommodate the contract,” McCollum explained. “Jim liked the idea, and we immediately set about studying what it would require.”
McCollum said they determined that the combination of their own charter fleet and the proposed contract would take about 40 percent of JetCorp’s potential capacity, but they would have to hire an additional 60 mechanics and some other personnel to stay on top of the work.
“Jim and I talked it over, agreed to do it and hired Troy Funk, who would go on to become our v-p of technical services. In one year we went from 28 to 105 employees offering a full-service FBO including charter, line service and a Class IV FAA Part 145 repair station.
“The operation was really growing, so in March 1993 we acquired Spirit Jet Center–the dominant FBO at SUS. By July of that year we’d grown to 120 employees and were going strong right up to July 31, 1993, when the flood hit. I can’t describe the feeling you get when you look at your business completely underwater.” In the aftermath the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the flood added 4.9 trillion cu ft of water to the entire floodplain area.
The build-up to the flood took long enough for McCollum to move equipment and aircraft to higher ground in an empty hangar located on nearby St. Louis Regional Airport (ALN) in Alton, Ill. “The flood hit Spirit on Friday night and we were open for business at ALN the following Tuesday; we were very fortunate,” he said. “We operated there until November, when we moved back to Spirit and set up temporary operations in a vacant hangar while we renovated and added to our old building. Eight months after abandoning Spirit we opened our new facility.”
Today JetCorp Technical Services, the repair station part of the business, is stronger than ever, according to Funk. “We’re open 24 hours a day five days a week, and 20 hours a day on weekends,” he said. “We’re an FAA Class III and IV repair station and are also EASA Part 145 approved.” Of JetCorp’s 175 employees, 84 work in the repair station and 74 are maintenance technicians.
Technical Services is housed in a facility of slightly less than 60,000 sq ft with an interior, component and cabinet shop located across the street. The facility includes a structural repair shop, avionics shop, more than 23,000 sq ft of hangar area and various conference rooms, training space and administrative offices. The company also has an accessory shop, paint facility and upholstery shop.
“One of the advantages to working with us is that we have extensive experience and tooling yet we’re small enough that our customers have access to anyone in the company, including top management,” Funk said. “We are committed to getting our customers up and out as soon as possible, whether it’s scheduled or drop-in maintenance.”
Emphasis on Training
JetCorp Technical Services specializes in Learjets, Falcons and Challengers, but Funk emphasizes, “We have tooling and training to work on a wide array of aircraft.” The company also works on the Honeywell TFE731 and HTF7000, GE CJ610 and CF700 and Pratt & Whitney JT12A, JT15D and PT6. The avionics shop is an authorized dealer for all major OEMs, including Honeywell, Bendix/King and Collins. The company is also a GPS monitoring unit flight provider, is experienced with RVSM aircraft recertification and has done numerous supplemental type certificates.
Funk said Technical Services is particularly good with full interior refurbishment and design. “We have master craftsmen skilled in woodworking and cabinetry who work for us, we do custom upholstery, leather and carpet, and have invested in 16-g seat interior work.”
The component and accessory shop houses more than 6,000 new and overhauled engine and airframe parts, and the company does its own on-site repair of pneumatic, hydraulic and electrical components. The NDT department performs dye penetrant, magnetic particle, eddy current inspections and ultrasound testing.
“We can offer a broad range of services because we’re very big on training,” Funk said. “We’ve received the FAA’s Diamond Award four years in a row; we do both
in-house and simulation center training. But as I said, we’re still small enough to have that family atmosphere. We also recognize longevity and have employees who go back almost to the beginning of the company.”
McCollum said as of June 1 the company was acquired by JetDirect and became part of a national charter fleet membership program composed of eight charter companies strategically located throughout the U.S.
“Our Technical Services will continue to offer maintenance to the public,” he said. “I’ve heard rumors that taking care of all the additional aircraft will close our doors to the public; it’s just not so. We’ve studied this carefully and the increase will bring us up to only about 30 percent of our capacity. In fact, we’re implementing a five-year plan to aggressively expand all of Technical Services’ capabilities. Our MRO operation is definitely here to stay.”