NBAA Convention News

Western Jet Preps for Influx of Mx, Avionics Work

 - October 30, 2016, 11:24 AM
Tried and true, the vintage Western Jet hangar has been upgraded to current earthquake standards and airport codes. It’s continually chock full of Gulfstreams, and together with tenant companies such as interior specialist JetSet, Western Jet is eying a busy market.

Slowly but surely, Western Jet Aviation (Booth 768), an independent FAA Part 145 repair station that specializes in Gulfstream maintenance, grew into the hangar that it occupies at Van Nuys Airport in southern California. At first, Western Jet occupied just a portion of one end of the large Quonset-style hangar, which it shared with a Raytheon defense division. Five years ago Western Jet took over the entire hangar after Raytheon moved out, and the company easily keeps the spacious facility full with combinations of up to 12 GIIIs and GIVs or 10 GIVs and GVs. The hangar has been upgraded to meet modern earthquake standards, so while it looks somewhat dated, the building will be around for many more years to come.

Western Jet, founded 18 years ago and owned by general manager Jim Hansen, is not just a maintenance shop but has expanded into a full-service avionics installation and repair center, and the company also invited other service providers to rent space and add to the menu of services available to customers.

In an unused space upstairs in the hangar, JetSet Interiors is outfitting a full-service interior refurb shop and design center that will eventually employ more than a dozen specialists. That new 100- by 30-foot space is set to open around the first of next year, but in the meantime, six JetSet employees are already refurbing seats and interiors at an offsite facility near Van Nuys Airport. JetSet also has facilities in Henderson, Nev., Dallas and Hartford, Conn. “Now we can say ‘yes’ [when customers ask about] interior work,” said Hansen.

To help Western Jet customers make the all-important decisions about seat upgrades, JetSet is building a demo area in the Western Jet lobby, where customers can try out different seat configurations. One of the unique JetSet features include a clever design that widens the seat width by one inch without increasing the seat’s footprint or intruding into the airplane’s aisle. JetSet designers also have incorporated seat controls and USB ports into the inside armrest, as well as a storage space and light in the outside armrest, and all this with an overall lower weight for the entire seat without impinging on the seat’s TSO certification.

JetSet’s Van Nuys location will specialize in the Gulfstreams that usually frequent Western Jet, but the two companies are open to other types as well, and JetSet’s employees are experienced on interiors for aircraft such as the Challenger 300, Citations, even Airbuses and Boeings, according to president Ron Larabie. JetSet can also refurbish headliners and sidewalls, repair carpets and reconfigure cabinets. The company also recently received FAA approval to install 16-g belted divans for the GIII, GIV and GV.

“Customers like a one-stop shop,” said Hansen, and having JetSet in-house also helps Western Jet maintain its promises to customers. “We’re perfectionists,” he added. “When we send an airplane out, it’s 99 percent on-time and on-budget. Even though JetSet is [separate], they understand how we do things, and the job is easier to control.”

The other shop-inside-a-shop at Western Jet is Mike Boal Designs, which specializes in paint schemes but also handles small paint jobs such as touch-ups, registration numbers, striping and components such as flight controls. This capability saves a lot of time and enables Western Jet to help keep customers’ airplanes looking sharp without having to send the airplane or components elsewhere.

The avionics shop is a significant addition to Western Jet’s capabilities, especially considering the growing demand for NextGen upgrades such as FANS and ADS-B. Director of avionics Tim Atkinson has developed the avionics team and shop into a sophisticated operation with its own engineering team that designs cabin-management systems and NextGen avionics installations. The shop’s technicians can make long wire-looms for GIVs and GVs in-house as well as harnesses for cabin touchscreen controls, which helps keep downtime low. After making and installing new wiring, customers are supplied with a complete copy of the new wiring diagram. There is no extra charge for the diagram document, which is provided as an electronic PDF.

A new vacuum table, designed and built by Western Jet technicians, holds metal blanks tightly in place without the need for clamps, while a CNC machine routes out desired instrument panel shapes.

To help educate customers, Western Jet built a customer presentation center, which shows videos explaining the various technologies that they might want to consider as upgrades. A demonstration area in the avionics shop lobby is fitted with cabin lighting and speaker systems so customers can see and hear options for CMS upgrades. “They ask questions and we tell them what we think,” said Hansen

Many GVs are coming due for a major maintenance event, the 192-month inspection, which takes about six to eight weeks, Atkinson noted. Customers [facing that inspection] are asking about CMS upgrades and JetSet interior refurbs,” he said. “It’s a nice match.”

Western Jet’s avionics shop tries to anticipate customer requirements, stocking materials that are typically needed to avoid long lead times when a customer wants an upgrade or repair while the airplane is in for maintenance. “Because avionics feeds off maintenance,” he said, “we can’t wait for long lead times.” For example, Western Jet always keeps a complete Gogo Business Aviation ATG5000 Wi-Fi installation kit in stock. The company also purchased four Rockwell Collins TDR-94D transponders, required for many ADS-B upgrades, so customers can exchange their old transponder instead of waiting to have their unit shipped to Rockwell Collins for the upgrade. “We can’t do the job if we can’t get the transponder,” Atkinson said.

When it comes to pricing avionics upgrades, Atkinson is careful not to give out rough numbers and prefers to take the time and effort necessary to work up a firm quote. This avoids the problem of giving one low number then having to ask the customer for more money as the full nature of the job becomes evident, while the job is underway.

“We do our homework,” said Hansen. This includes asking the customer for their current wiring diagram to make sure the quote is completely accurate and achievable.

Western Jet maintains about 200 Gulfstreams, and while the company’s technicians can do everything from routine inspections and line maintenance to the heaviest inspections and major sheetmetal repairs, he added, “we can’t do everything.” But for operators that want an alternative to the factory-owned maintenance centers, especially owners of older Gulfstream models, “we’re here as an option,” Hansen said.