Savannah Air growing in the face of recession

 - July 29, 2008, 7:06 AM

During the current economic climate, when many completion and refurbishment centers are struggling–some merely to survive–Savannah Air Center appears to be doing quite well. In fact, the Savannah, Ga. center is doing well enough to embark on construction of a new 12,500-sq-ft cabinetry shop and begin planning for an additional 70,000-sq-ft hangar.

The company opened its doors in December 1999 with a 50,000-sq-ft, two-bay facility offering no more than exterior paint work. Three years later, the sprawling facility on the southeast corner of Savannah International Airport is also handling major interior completion and refurbishment work, as well as avionics repair and upgrades and maintenance. On the wall are FAA, JAA and Bermuda repair station approvals. The company’s repair station ticket covers the GII through the GV, as well as the Falcon 50. According to v-p of sales and marketing Bill Johnson, by the end of the year, the center will add to that list the Challenger 600 line and the rest of the Falcon line in 2004.

It was in May that Savannah Air broke ground for the new cabinetry shop, a move that will complete phase three of an ambitious expansion plan. Phase one was the paint shop, followed by the phase-two addition of another 50,000-sq-ft hangar used for maintenance and interior installation, administration and back shops.

Phase four will be the 70,000-sq-ft hangar dedicated to maintenance and capable of holding as many as five Global Express business jets and able to accommodate aircraft as large as the Boeing Business Jet. At that point, interior completions will expand into most of the original hangar space.

According to Johnson, the JAA approval has added considerably to Savannah Air’s global market presence. The company has already done work on nearly a half-dozen European-registered Gulfstreams and currently has a European-owned Challenger 600 in for an interior refurbishment.

Savannah Air is also working hard to develop a growing number of STCs. One of the most recent is for installation of a high-speed (128 kpbs) data-transfer system from Montreal-based EMS Technologies through Teledyne Controls. It uses Satcom Direct/Swift64 as a provider, dual Aero-H AMT-50 antenna and a Cisco 800 series router. A wireless access port allows a laptop computer interface, and the system can also be configured for use with a personal digital assistant. According to Jim  Stedman, manager of avionics and electrical, the first system went into a Gulfstream IV as part of a major interior refurb. The first trip with it was from New York to Moscow and, he added, “it worked like a champ.”

Now being installed in a GIV is a “chip onboard,” downwash/upwash Syair Designs LED lighting system that allows user selections from normal white light to shades of mood lighting.

The company’s primary focus is on the upper end of the business jet market, including Falcons, Challengers, Globals and Gulfstreams. In fact, Johnson figures about 10 percent of the current Global Express fleet is flying with Savannah Air exterior paint. “That part of the center has been busy since we started, and it hasn’t let up.”

On Fridays, some of the nearly 100 Savannah Air employees occasionally roll out the grills and light the charcoal. As evening approaches, the smell of jet fuel is displaced by the scent of barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs, and laughter mixes with the sound of jet engines on the other side of the field.

“It’s a good shop with a lot of good people,” said Johnson, who also noted that the company expects to hire another 20 employees by the end of this month. “Business could be better, but we’re doing okay.

“We’ve come a long way,” he admitted, “but we’ve still got a long way to go.”