Western Aircraft, owned by Greenwich AeroGroup and one of three FBOs on Boise Airport (KBOI) in southwestern Idaho, celebrated the completion of a $4.7 million expansion this summer that included construction of two new buildings and more than $2.4 million in facility improvements and specialized tooling. The two buildings added 26,000 sq ft of hangar and parts storage space to the 18-acre campus, taking the total company-wide hangar space past 125,000 sq ft and significantly expanding Western Aircraft’s maintenance capabilities and parts inventory.
According to Western Aircraft president Jeff Mihalic, the company’s business expansion was driven in part by thesales tax exemption on installed aircraft parts passed by the Idaho legislature in 2012.
“Ninety-five percent of our customers are based outside Idaho,” Mihalic said. “We’re now capturing customers from as far south as Texas and as far east as Pennsylvania.”
Along with constructing a new 14,000-sq-ft parts warehouse–one of the two buildings opened this past July–Western expanded its service capabilities and sales force to bring additional maintenance work to its Idaho facility, adding 50 jobs across all segments of its business starting in the second half of 2013. In October, the company learned the hard way that staffing to meet projected demands is a delicate business, when it was forced to lay off a dozen of its newly added workers, as its 2014 numbers didn’t meet growth expectations set in 2013.
“It’s always a tough decision to let people go just because you don’t have work for them,” Mihalic told AIN. “We hung on to those people for three or four more months waiting to see how the market developed, and to make a long story short, we believe that our actual workload for 2014 is going to end up really close to where it was in 2013.” For the near term, Mihalic expects a 5-percent increase in work hours to be covered with overtime, though the current late-year spike in business could make Western rethink its staffing quotas for this year’s first quarter.
Western Aircraft has been a certified aircraft repair station since 1957 and as an authorized service center for Textron Aircraft (Beechcraft, Cessna and Hawker), Dassault Falcon and Pilatus, it employs more than 70 maintenance technicians and 23 aircraft services support personnel working in shifts between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. According to Tracy Kalbfleisch, director of aircraft services at Western, the facility expansion brought some relief to an operation that was “bursting at the seams.”
“This construction is part of a long-term plan with three phases,” said Kalbfleisch. “Phase one included 12,000 square feet of hangar space for aircraft services, which we are using mostly for avionics and engineering, tooling and aircraft interiors storage. Phase two will expand the paint facility as well as create additional areas for aircraft sales, and [phase three] will include a new building for our interiors re-completion shop.”
The phase-one expansion also brought some relief to the line services department. In addition to opening up more hangar space for transient aircraft, the expansion introduced new equipment, including fuel trucks. According to Western Aircraft FBO and line service manager Dan Milender, the FBO services approximately 6,000 business and general aviation flights per year; 1,500 airline flights per month; and an unspecified number of flights by transient military aircraft not handled by the Gowen Field Air National Guard base located on the southwest side of the airport. As part of phase one, Western purchased three new 5,000-gallon jet-A trucks with lift decks last year, in addition to maintaining a 10,000-gallon airline refueling truck and other service vehicles.
“We have the largest fleet of fuel trucks on this airport,” said Milender. “We also have 295,000 square feet of ramp space. I can and do park a Boeing 757 out here regularly.”
PC-12 SPECIALTY BOOSTS COMPLETIONS BUSINESS
While Western Aircraft services many types of aircraft, it might be best known as the largest Pilatus PC-12 dealer in the world, tracing its relationship with Pilatus back to the launch of the big turboprop single in 1994.
“We have been incredibly successful in selling the PC-12,” said Milender.
“To date we have sold more than anyone else in the world, we maintain more than anyone else in the world, and we operate a fleet of them in our charter department. We are a Center of Excellence for PC-12s here at Western.”
Western’s active role in the Pilatus community keeps its interior recompletion center busy as PC-12s change hands, often requiring interior configuration changes from executive to air medical or commuter. Currently Western’s recompletion center and its cabinetry shop, paint booths, upholstery center and wood finishing area take up valuable hangar space, while the design center and sales staff are located in another building about a five-minute walk away.
“A big part of our business is taking care of the Pilatus fleet in our area,” said Rick Van Thiel, manager of interior sales. “The plan is to construct a purpose-built facility for the interior recompletion center that would include the individual paint booths and a separate upholstery area, with enough room to move the design center in along with the sales and design staff so everybody would be in one area.”
Van Thiel said the recompletion center maintains a steady backlog, with four major projects per quarter.
“Having the recompletion center makes us a more well rounded facility,” said Van Thiel. “To support the larger maintenance [jobs], you have to be able to do some interior work, cabin lighting and avionics upgrades. We’re seeing that customers are holding their aircraft a little longer, so we’re performing more soft refurbishment projects–reupholstering the seats, replacing the carpet and re-covering high-use items like side panels.”