While Cleveland-based Constant Aviation expanded its reach in the U.S. in recent years with additional facilities on both the East and West coasts, the MRO provider at the same time strengthened its nationwide presence through a rapidly growing AOG network that now spans 25 locations with 60 dedicated technicians.
Over the past four years, the AOG mobile response team has grown into one of the largest networks, if not the largest, among the business aviation MRO providers, said Paul Witt, Constant's v-p of operations for AOG. Witt joined Constant in late 2015 after seeing the development of the AOG business at Cessna Aircraft and Stevens Aviation. “My long-term goal was to always have a nationwide AOG business,” he said, adding that president Stephen Maiden gave him the green light to move forward on the vision. “We started out, grew it, and it took off very quickly,” Witt said. “Today, four years later, we're truly nationwide.”
With that growth, the business has followed. Witt estimates that the Constant AOG network works between 150 and 175 AOG events a week. “Two, three years ago, it was maybe half of that,” he said.
Part of that comes through a strategic placement of AOG teams, he said, noting the company pinpointed “high-profile” areas where the teams could reach the majority of customers within a reasonable timespan. He is satisfied with the extensive reach, and the placement of the technicians' shifts along with traffic patterns. Further, the company is contemplating the addition of another AOG base in the Northeast.
But beyond location, Witt credits the success of the network to several approaches that he believes differentiates Constant’s AOG network from many others. First, while backed by the resources of Constant, the network is independent of the hangar staff. That eliminates any resourcing decisions that could come up when a hangar is full and AOG events occur. “We're completely autonomous of the hangar,” Witt said. “My technicians don't report to the hangar; they report to the AOG division, and we don't have that pull [from the hangars]. So I think that that absolutely makes us different than other third-party MROs and different than a lot of OEMs.”
Another differentiator among third-party providers, Witt said, is the MRO built a dispatch center that operates 24/7. “You are always going to get a live dispatcher…that works for Constant Aviation. It doesn't go to some call center somewhere. I think was the catalyst for making us what we are today.”
He further stressed the importance of the dispatch team, particularly in ensuring the right resources are sent to an event. Constant has amassed a fleet of 28 trucks stocked with tooling and parts that are frequently used. This puts one at every base and additional trucks at the busier locations.
In addition, though, the AOG network can tap into the company’s Constant Aviation Rotable Exchange (CARE) parts support business. It also is backed by the expertise of Constant’s product specialists.
This is important given the range of AOG requests and work from interior to exterior repairs, inspections, and replacements. Witt agrees with other MRO specialists that a problem with Wi-Fi is critical to the customer and is now a common AOG item.
An important corner of its business is special-event support. It recently readied its own “pit crew” for AOG events that may have occurred during last month’s NASCAR South Point 400 event in Las Vegas. The event draws thousands of visitors and substantially increases business aviation traffic at local airports. South Point was one of a number of such high-profile events that Constant Aviation’s AOG mobile response operation supports around the county, with others including events such as the Kentucky Derby and the Masters Tournament. The Masters draws tenfold the traffic to local airports.
The company works with suppliers to estimate traffic and potential needs to best position its AOG teams and associated equipment, Witt said. “We have technicians who are well adapted to those types of events.” Dispatchers also ready for these events.
A key part of the business is its large fleet operators, whether fractional or charter operations. That helps the company to strategize on the placement of its AOG teams and results in benefits for other operators. “That puts you in a location to where [other] private customers may have problems. You're there and they're surprised that, ‘Hey, you're in Bozeman, Montana, and that's great,’” he said, adding that without that steady business from the larger operators, “you probably couldn’t sustain” the locations.
Constant’s parent Directional Aviation also is the owner of fractional ownership provider Flexjet, and while Witt said “that is a great partnership,” he emphasized, “We stand on our own. Every division within Directional stands on its own merit. So although we appreciate that relationship and we have a great one with Flexjet, it's our quality, it's our technicians, and it's our ability to respond rapidly that set us apart.”
While separate, the AOG and hangar sides do benefit from each other’s business. “We’ll touch customers that haven’t even heard about Constant Aviation or say, ‘I didn't know you were in Mesa [Arizona]' or 'Hey, I didn't know that you'd gone to Sanford [Florida].’ So it absolutely drives business into the hangars,” he said. Constant has added facilities in Mesa and Sanford in recent years, bringing its fixed hangar locations to five, including two in the Cleveland area and Las Vegas.
The AOG network also provides relief for some work that doesn’t have to be done in the hangar. “It gives us the ability to maybe do some of the smaller inspections on the road so [customers] don't have to move the aircraft.”
Constant will highlight the AOG network, CARE, and its other services at its booth (C10617) during this week’s convention.