In 45 years, Petaluma-based Mangon Aircraft Inc. has grown into one of the most respected airplane maintenance companies in the North Bay. Virtually overnight, though, the company is poised to go global, taking advantage of China’s exploding economy and insatiable demand for skilled labor in all sectors including its nascent aviation industry.
About four months ago, CEO Ron Mangon was approached by representatives from Ningxia Shenma General Aviation, a company based in central China that manufactures light aircraft and drones. The company was looking for an American partner to set up a school to train Chinese aircraft mechanics, Mangon said.
“China is an emerging market in aviation,” he said. “Seventy percent of aircraft mechanics in China are foreigners. They want our knowledge. They want us to train mechanics for them.”
Mangon said he doesn’t know why Ningxia Shenma chose his company and he was skeptical at first, so he had his lawyer look into the Chinese company. “I know nothing about China, and I needed to do my due diligence,” he said. “Everything they told me came up true. They weren’t blowing smoke.” Delegates from the Chinese company, including its chairman, have made monthly visits to Mangon Aircraft, based out of four hangers at the Petaluma Municipal Airport, Mangon said. He is planning on visiting China later this year.
The deal, which is still being worked out, could double the size of Mangon’s company to 30 employees. He is making plans for a new $3 million, 22,500-square-foot training facility at the airport. Recently, Mangon presented his plan to the Petaluma Airport Commission, which advises the City Council on matters including leasing city-owned land at the airport. Kristin Winter, chairwoman of the commission and an aviation consultant, said the proposal could benefit the city by increasing airport traffic and adding to the city’s tax base.
She said Mangon would be a good fit for a Chinese company looking for a U.S. aircraft maintenance partner. China would likely look at a major West Coast hub like Seattle, Los Angeles or the Bay Area, she said, and there are only a handful of established aircraft maintenance companies in these areas. Mangon has a reputation as a reliable maintenance shop, and the company also recently started a pilot training center, so it has experience instructing.
“China is very aggressively trying to develop its aviation sector,” she said. “This would follow an industry-wide pattern of Chinese investment in the U.S. with an eye to transfer knowledge to China. Assuming the deal goes forth as planned, it would increase activity at the airport and involve a number of new jobs. It’s hard to see any bad coming from it.”
Foreign aviation companies seeking training in the U.S. is not a new phenomenon, but analysts say it has mostly been limited to pilot training. Japan Airlines, for example, trained pilots at the Napa County Airport from the 1970s until 2010.
Mangon Aircraft’s potential partnership is unique because it involves mechanic training and a firm from China, which has long been dormant in the aviation industry, according to Jeff Kohlman, principal with Colorado-based Aviation Management Consulting Group, a firm with experience consulting in China.
“It’s very common for foreign countries to use U.S. aviation infrastructure for training,” he said. “But it’s not as common to set up dedicated maintenance training programs. The Chinese are always trying to find partnership opportunities in the U.S. China is a market opportunity for American companies, but it’s still an untested market.”
Mangon, whose father, Walter Mangon, started the company in 1969, said the training program would involve sending American instructors to China for the beginning of the two-year program. The students would spend the last six months getting hands-on experience at the planned facility in Petaluma. If all goes to plan, he said, the venture will be up and running within a year.
“It really fell into my lap,” he said. “Some doors opened. It feels exciting. Why not be a training facility and add ‘international’ to the resume.”
You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MattBrownPD.