The downturn in the economy, which affected the general aviation market, has changed the way three Wichita suppliers now do business.
For Rod Wilson, president of the newly formed Air Capital Interiors, which upgrades the interiors of general aviation airplanes, the recession was an opportunity to hire talent and go after a market that was underserved.
Cox Machine was able to reinvest in its parts manufacturing business and perform research and development initiatives, said Jason Cox, the company’s chief technical officer.
And Global Aviation Technologies sharpened its pencil and improved efficiencies to bring down costs, said founder Woody Cottner.
The industry is competitive, Cottner said.
“(Aircraft) operators are very keen from a business standpoint, and they want the best value for their money,” he said.
Wilson, Cox and Cottner took part in a panel discussion Monday during the Wichita Aero Club’s supplier summit at the Doubletree Hilton Wichita Airport. The panel was moderated by Daniel McCoy of the Wichita Business Journal.
The demanding regulatory environment in aviation keeps new suppliers from entering the business, Cox said.
That’s good when it comes to the competition. But it’s also a detriment.
Regulations increase the time and cost of work, Wilson said.
And putting the procedures and processes in place for compliance makes it less competitive to bid on work outside the aviation industry, such as the oilfield or construction equipment industries, Cox said.
Planemakers are changing the way they select suppliers when they outsource work, Cox said.
More are now grouping work packages together, trying to make sure that the supplier is the best one to supply the parts, he said.
It’s a demanding marketplace, Wilson said.
“We choose to be here,” Wilson said. “Self-awareness and a deep awareness of the other party and what their needs are and having the passion to serve” are key.
One risk to the supply chain is the advent of 3-D printing, the process of making a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model.
Today, the process is too slow and expensive to make metal airplane parts, Cox said.
“But it will get faster and cheaper,” he said. “That’s coming.”
Suppliers will need to continue to embrace new technologies, Cox said.
“The industry has to get into robotics,” he said, adding that Cox is trying to figure out how best to do that.
Cox Machine is also keeping an eye on composites, which are being used more and more by the aviation industry.
As certification costs for composites decrease, their use will increase.
When it comes to training, it’s important to expose future aviation workers to the industry and what’s involved in it, Wilson said, so they are prepared and have realistic expectations.
Air Capital Interiors wants to work with the National Center for Aviation Training in northeast Wichita to see how it can partner with the center, he said.
Cox said that the NCAT is “doing a lot of stuff right.”
The market for new general aviation airplanes remains soft, Cottner said.
Rather than spend money on a new plane, more operators are upgrading existing aircraft, he said. That’s good for his business.
One opportunity for general aviation is China, Cox said.
China’s general aviation industry is in its infancy, and the nation is working to grow the industry. That means planemakers will have an opportunity to build planes for that market.
Despite a flat general aviation market, the market for commercial airplanes “is going crazy,” Cox said. The most demand is for single-aisle Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 jets.