Paris 2011: Ontic takes on OEM burden to support legacy aircraft

Paris Air Show » 2011
June 20, 2011, 7:20 PM

When Peg Billson first was approached about the opportunity to take over leadership of BBA Aviation’s Legacy Support division and its Ontic subsidiary, it took her just a few minutes to understand the unique nature of the company’s business model. The company’s business model is simple: when aircraft reach a certain age, OEMs are faced with deciding whether to deploy limited resources on supporting older products or develop new products that could bring in a lot more revenue.

That’s where Ontic comes in. It is a manufacturer of aircraft parts and components, but unlike other third-party companies, it doesn’t compete with OEMs. “We partner with OEMs,” Billson said. “Whether they want to divest or license, we’re agnostic.”

There are various reasons that an OEM would want to offload legacy support to Ontic. For example, Pratt & Whitney Canada sold the intellectual property for a PT6 fuel pump to Ontic. “Over time, the OEM makes a decision to rationalize their portfolio,” she said. “Maybe they’re going to newer technology and need to license their older technology to free up resources for new programs, or new spares are very low volume.”

Some OEMs sell the product lines needed to support an older aircraft; other OEMs prefer to license the intellectual property–the design of the parts–to Ontic but retain ownership of the parts. In either case, Ontic then manufactures the parts, labeled with it own nameplate, and sells them directly to the aircraft operator. Ontic also obtains parts manufacturer approval (PMA) from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on each part that it makes (or the equivalent for European parts), which eases the process of shipping directly to the end-user. And Ontic takes on the liability for the parts as well.

Unlike a large manufacturer with huge overheads, the company doesn’t need to make a large number of parts to cover that overhead. It thrives in the world of low-volume manufacturing of high-quality aerospace components. Ontic also uniquely has the resources to store inventory for seldom-used but high-value parts, while most OEMs are forced to keep inventories at a minimum. “We’re not a distributor,” said Billson. “We manufacture and repair parts.”

When taking on a new part, Ontic works with the existing supplier of that part. In some cases, it will transition to new suppliers, if there are efficiencies to be gained. Some parts are manufactured in Ontic’s own facilities and some are sourced from other suppliers. After a production run of a part is done, the company stores all of the tooling and jigs for that part in case more parts need to be produced.

Ontic currently operates four facilities, two of which–Chatsworth in California and Slough, UK–manufacture new parts and provide MRO services. A facility in Cheltenham, UK, is growing in capability, and its Houston, Texas facility is mainly for MRO. In 2012, the company is to open a Singapore MRO facility.

“The business model is a global model,” said Billson. It’s much easier for Ontic to provide parts to European operators from the UK facilities, especially for military and government customers. “That’s why we strategically focused on having both footprints [in the U.S. and Europe].”

The company logs more than $100 million in annual sales, according to Billson, and that amount has quadrupled since BBA purchased Ontic in 2006. Sales break down to 40 percent military and government aircraft programs, 30 percent business aviation and 30 percent commercial airliners and freighters. Ontic’s activities include about 20 percent making parts for existing product lines, 40 to 50 percent for new spares, with the remainder being the company’s MRO business.

Key areas of focus are turbomachinery and engine accessories, electromechanical items like motors and heat exchangers, and landing gear and control surfaces. Ontic also makes and services electronics such as smoke detector systems and electronic engine controls for Honeywell TFE731 engines but is strategically targeting the generation of electronic products made from the 1970s to the 1990s. Rotor control systems are also a targeted opportunity. Large Ontic deals include the purchase of GE Aviation’s fuel measurement business (which included the Cheltenham facilities, now branded as Ontic) and licensing Honeywell’s 700-series auxiliary power units (found on older airliners such as DC-10s, MD-10s/11s and A300s).

“In the last six months, OEMs are talking more about what to do with their legacy products,” Billson said. Ontic, with BBA Aviation’s backing, is in a position to take on big projects and help the legacy customers of an OEM stay in the air. “We do that repeatedly and painlessly to OEMs and their customer base,” she said.

Billson, a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s aeronautical engineering program and holder of a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Cal State University, went on to run Honeywell’s Airframe Systems division then moved to Eclipse Aviation as COO. She is a pilot who regularly flies her Cirrus SR22 between her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Ontic offices in Chatsworth and Houston.

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