MRO Profile: Atlantic Aero

 - March 6, 2008, 10:18 AM

Atlantic Aero saw life in the fall of 1971, when a group of Greensboro, N.C. investors identified a need for an FBO on Piedmont Triad International Airport. The company began operations with a staff of 15 employees, 38 plane ports and two 10,000-sq-ft-hangars. It also retained John Godwin as a consultant to tap into his years of FBO management experience. Godwin’s vision for a full-service FBO is what the investors had in mind and he joined the company as president.

By the early 1980s he began to perceive an industry-wide problem: technology was moving ahead at a dramatic pace, but that progress did not extend to modern aircraft, which were simply repainted versions of 1950s technology. Godwin’s son Don had an idea about how to keep up: form an engineering team that could design, develop and market technologically advanced supplemental type certificates (STCs) and parts manufacturing approvals (PMAs).

“Don’s idea was to find innovative solutions to the rising cost of maintenance,” said Jim Spinder, Atlantic Aero’s president and COO. “He felt the industry was in a rut and no one was looking for better, faster and more economical solutions.”

Eventually Don took the helm as president and father John became CEO and chairman of the board, a position he held until he was killed in an aircraft accident in 1990.

In 1997, after a three-year process, Atlantic Aero became an FAA Designated Alteration Station (DAS). “It was insightful because, with a few exceptions, a DAS rating typically had been the purview of major OEMs,” Spinder said.

“Our engineering and manufacturing division has given us the ability to develop STCs that allow us to do repairs in a faster, less expensive manner. As a DAS we produce STCs and PMAs for Challengers, Falcons, Hawkers, Learjets, Citations, King Airs, Caravans and several other turboprop and single-engine aircraft,” he said. HondaJet executives took notice of the company’s expertise and tapped Atlantic Aero to support the design, development and testing of the HondaJet concept.

Controlled Growth
Spinder came to aviation later in life. He had been with Kimberly Clark for about eight years as financial manager of the Paris, Texas consumer products plant when he was asked to transfer to New Jersey to be the business analyst for a new venture the company was undertaking.

“Our aviation department, KC Aviation, purchased a charter management business with an eye toward using the 45 aircraft they acquired to help expand their maintenance division,” he explained.

Three years later, in 1994, KC Aviation and Duncan Aviation entered into a joint venture to start an engine overhaul company called Alliance Engines in Maryville, Tenn. Spinder took the CFO and COO spot.

“I was actively involved in hiring virtually every one of our 125 employees,” he said. “I learned to love the aviation industry, so when KC Aviation left the partnership I felt obligated to all those employees we’d recruited and decided to stay.”

By 1999 Spinder had built an impressive aviation management résumé and Don Godwin recruited him to be executive vice president and general manager. In 2002, Don Godwin became CEO and chairman, and Spinder became president and COO. Godwin retired in January last year when Greenwich Aero Group acquired the business.

Spinder said he is aggressive but selective about employee recruitment. “Two years ago we had about 105 employees; today we have more than 20 contractors and 165 employees, including more than 90 A&P mechanics, avionics repairmen or interior craftsmen.”

A significant contributor to Atlantic Aero’s growth is its strong, ongoing relationship as primary maintenance provider for Flexjet and Flight Options.

“There’s no doubt the stable work demand afforded us by the fractionals has allowed us to grow in other areas,” Spinder said. “For instance, in 2006 we opened a 9,000-square-foot dedicated cabinet and upholstery facility. It quickly became our second largest revenue producer next to maintenance labor. The relationship also gave us the opportunity to expand our expertise in the Challenger, Hawker and Learjet 45 and 60.

“Beyond that, our relationship with the fractionals underscored the absolute criticality of on-time return-to-service and that translated to better service for all our customers.” He added that the company plans to expand the interior shop and avionics shop through the development of more STCs and proprietary products.

In addition to being an FAA-approved repair station and Designated Alteration Station, the company is approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency and has recently been awarded an AS9100 certificate for its manufacturing facility.

Atlantic Aero is a Honeywell TFE731 line service center, regional service center for Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6s and JT15s, and it lays claim to being the Southeast’s leading Cessna Caravan ASR and service center. It is approved by Cessna for Level 3 NDI on Citations, its personnel are factory trained by Pratt & Whitney Canada for the IBR inspections on the Learjet 60 and it has dealership agreements with all of the major avionics manufacturers.

The company occupies 28 acres encompassing 80,000 sq ft of dedicated maintenance hangar space, 11 additional customer hangars, 38 plane ports and more than 5,000 sq ft of office space for support staff.

According to Spinder, in the last six years Atlantic Aero has invested some $6 million in renovations and is currently building an additional 3,400 sq ft for the interior refurbishment shop. “ We’ll also be expanding our maintenance services area by another 25,000 square feet,” he said.

Spinder takes great pride in the fact that Atlantic Aero offers “nose-to-tail support” but attributed the evolution of the company to the dedication and creativity of its employees. “Atlantic Aero enjoys an outstanding reputation in large part because we live and breathe aviation. Our employees really care about their work and our customers because the company cares about its employees,” Spinder said. “It’s a great feeling to be a part of what’s happening here, but I never lose sight of who makes it happen–our employees.”