Rick Ochs, chairman of Columbus, Ohio-based Spirit Aeronautics, knew he wanted to work in aviation since high school. Doggedly pursuing his dream, Ochs holds FAA certificates for airframe mechanic and repairman, an FCC license, an NCATT Aircraft Electronics Technician (AET) rating, and is an instrument-rated pilot who flies his company Cessna 182 to make sales and service calls.
He first heard the word “avionics” when he enrolled in a two-year vocation technology communications program in high school “I was immediately hooked; I was fascinated by aircraft electronic systems and cockpit technology,” Ochs told AIN. After graduation, Ochs joined the Navy and was assigned to the USS Forrestal, where he worked on Lockheed S-3A Viking avionics systems.
In 1988 Ochs was discharged from the Navy, returned to Columbus, went to college and took a night-shift job with Lear Siegler doing avionics upgrades on U.S. Air Force C-130s. At the end of the one-year contract he joined Executive Jet Aviation and worked in the avionics department until he was laid off in 1991. It was followed by a stint with Palm Beach Avionics in Boca Raton, Fla., as an avionics tech. From there he went to Electrosonics in Columbus as an avionics tech and then Southern Air Transport as a maintenance controller on Boeing 747s, DC-8s and C-130s.
“Southern had a dormant avionics department it wanted to revive, and I convinced them to let me restart it. So in 1995 I was managing an airline avionics department and chasing broken airplanes all over the planet. The experience I gained you couldn’t buy; I started a new avionics business and learned to deal with the dynamics, including hiring and managing seven technicians we stationed all over the world. It was then that I began to seriously think about starting my own company,” Ochs said.
In 1998 Southern went out of business and Ochs moved through several avionics-related jobs, eventually ending up at Capital Aircraft Electronics as an avionics installation manager. While working at Capital, Ochs was doing some avionics work on the side for corporate flight departments when Ohio State University (OSU) issued a request for quotation (RFQ) for someone to build a hangar and open an avionics shop on the university’s airport. Ochs approached a local corporate flight department that was looking for a hangar and struck a deal with them in which he would build the hangar and they would lease one-third of the space.
“The income from the hangar rental would have made the deal economically viable, so I wrote up a proposal and submitted it to OSU but nothing came of it. Two years later the same RFQ came up again and again nothing came of it,” he said.
It was then that an unexpected opportunity presented itself for Ochs to do an FMS upgrade on a local corporate jet as an independent contractor.
“I did the job on time, on budget and on my own. It went so well that, combined with the support of my wife, it gave me the courage to quit my job with Capital Aircraft Electronics and start my own business. After all I’d gone through, for so many years, it just seemed appropriate to name the company Spirit Avionics,” Ochs said.
Leasing office space from an FBO on Port Columbus airport in March 2000, Ochs kept his tools in the trunk of his car and started visiting corporate flight departments at the airports around Columbus. His reputation and success grew rapidly, and one year later he was able to purchase Capital Aircraft Electronics.
One of Capital’s customers was Steve Wathen, owner of Equity, a real-estate business. As their friendship grew, Wathen joined Ochs as a partner and brought much needed financial resources and business intelligence to the enterprise.
Acquiring Capital Aircraft Electronics brought not only an FAR 145 repair station certificate into the mix but also an active customer list and dealership agreements with Honeywell Avionics, Rockwell/Collins and Universal Avionics.
Maintenance and Interiors
In its first four years of operation, Spirit Avionics received FAA approval for three supplemental type certificates for avionics upgrades on corporate jets. Additionally, Spirit began to provide services to various government agencies and military branches. In 2010 Spirit was awarded a contract to modify the interiors of the FAA’s King Air 300 fleet; the five-year 18-aircraft contract is worth approximately $7 million.
“That deal financially allowed us to make a strong move into the interior market,” Ochs said. As a result of continual growth we hired Tony Bailey last year. He had a broad background in aircraft service center leadership so he was brought in as president. At that time, it was decided that the future of Spirit required the inclusion of additional aircraft services and a new name to reflect the heart of Spirit and broaden the name beyond avionics. Last September, Spirit Avionics officially became Spirit Aeronautics, a trade name of Spirit Avionics Ltd.
“While our menu of offerings now includes avionics and interiors, we still lacked the ability to do general maintenance so we recently made the decision to add heavy maintenance to our Part 145 certificate. We have A&Ps on staff and are currently looking for a director of maintenance,” he said.
The 54,915-sq-ft Spirit Aeronautics complex on Port Columbus Airport includes an FBO, three hangars, and a separate hangar under a use agreement to accommodate aircraft the size of a Boeing Business Jet. The 3,500-sq-ft Hangar 1 includes 1,000 sq ft of shop space and is dedicated to aircraft maintenance. Hangar 2 has 6,000 sq ft of hangar floor, divided evenly among shop space, office area and parts storage and logistics. Hangar 3 is 6,300 sq ft dedicated to maintenance, refurbishment and interior work, as well as a 1,500-sq-ft office and shop area.
Spirit Aeronautics’ FAR Part 145 repair station offers aircraft maintenance, avionics and interior service, refurbishment and modification, engineering, aircraft management and new product research and development for all business aircraft. The MRO works on Boeings, Gulfstreams, Citations, Globals, Challengers, Learjets, Hawkers and Falcons.
Spirit Aeronautics currently has 24 employees, including eight A&P mechanics, most of whom hold the NCATT AET certificate, three avionic technicians, four interiors technicians, two materials specialists and two QC/QA inspectors.