Founded as Midcoast Aviation in 1971 by the late John Tucker, Jet Aviation St. Louis has been a key player in the business aviation maintenance, completions and refurbishment industry. The company now employs nearly 900 people, including 75 engineers, who work in hangars occupying 625,000 sq ft, including 17 backshops, at St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, Ill.
“John Tucker was truly a pioneer,” said Jet Aviation St. Louis senior vice president and general manager Chuck Krugh, “and without him we wouldn’t be here today.” Krugh said this during a welcome speech to the attendees at the NBAA St. Louis Business Aviation Regional Forum September 17, the first time the event has been held at the airport.
To honor Jet Aviation’s history, the company draped a 100-foot banner with a timeline from 1971 through the present on a fence next to the forum site, Hangar 22, illustrating milestones in the company’s development. Midcoast has been through a few owners since the founding. It was purchased in 1986 by Ozark Airlines, then sold to Sabreliner Aviation in 1994. The company was acquired by Jet Aviation in 2006, then in 2008, General Dynamics bought Jet Aviation, and in 2011 Midcoast was renamed Jet Aviation St. Louis.
“It’s important to recognize the importance of these NBAA events,” Krugh told the forum attendees. Not only do they offer opportunities to visit with exhibitors and share best practices with each other, but they also offer opportunities for face-to-face meetings. The most recent event gave many a chance to see Jet Aviation’s massive St. Louis facilities. “Those relationships and that networking is what keeps our industry going,” he said.
Continuous Improvement Efforts
Krugh, an A&P mechanic who holds a bachelor’s degree in computer and information systems technology and a master’s degree in business administration, joined Jet Aviation St. Louis in 2011. One of his first innovations at the St. Louis facility was the “eight key expectations,” which are shared with every employee on their badges and with posters and banners throughout the facility. The expectations are topped by the number one item: safety. A year ago, Krugh announced the ninth expectation at an all-hands meeting: “the aircraft always wins.” The idea here is that if an employee has to make a decision about doing the right thing, especially when the workload is high and the pressure is on, he or she will never be penalized for making the right choice, and that means making sure the airplane is safe and the work is 100-percent correct.
This is all part of Krugh’s and Jet Aviation’s efforts to focus on continuous improvement, he said, and one way to do this is to encourage every employee not to hesitate to suggest a better way to do something. One example of this is the continual challenge of what to do with all the unwieldy panels that are removed from aircraft during maintenance and inspections. Leaving these on the hangar floor is just not wise; wind could blow them around, or someone could step on them and cause an injury or damage to the panels. So an enterprising Jet Aviation St. Louis technician devised simple but effective racks made from wooden dowels slotted into vertical wood beams on rolling carts. These can accommodate many different sizes of panels, and they can easily be moved off the hangar floor into empty storage areas or backshops.
Other ideas from the employees include protective covers on all new seats when they leave the upholstery shop, and covers on new seat belts as well. Seats are difficult to get a grip on, so one employee came up with a simple temporary handle that is mounted on the top of the seat back to help move the seat from the backshop to the airplane.
Another innovation in the upholstery shop is an in-house Gerber leather hide cutting machine. The machine vacuum sucks the material to a flat surface, and a software-derived map makes the cuts to minimize waste leather and blemishes. This saves a lot of money and leather, as one Global can use 30 to 40 hides for an interior refurb.
The upholstery shop also offers mobile carpet replacement. Instead of fitting and cutting the carpeting inside the cabin, technicians measure and make a paper pattern, which is used to cut the carpet back in St. Louis. The carpet can then be sent to the customer’s location for installation.
Last June, Jet Aviation St. Louis installed a new Siemens climate control system developed by Global Finishing Solutions in the 20,000-sq-ft paint hangar. The system allows precise control of temperature and humidity. A certain level of humidity is necessary for curing today’s low-VOC (volatile organic compound) water-based paints, and a typical setting for paint curing is 55 percent humidity, 62 percent dewpoint and temperature nearly 80 degrees F. Typical paints require humidity around 50 percent, said paint shop supervisor Robert Wood. Although cutting humidity speeds drying time, he added, “you can’t cure it too fast or you get blemishes.”
Wood explained that Jet Aviation has switched to a replacement–called Prekote–for the Alodine aluminum preparation process. Using Alodine, paint techs had to apply about 30 to 35 gallons by hand with Scotchbrite pads for a typical jet paint job. Prekote requires just five gallons for the same airplane, and no hand application. The company has also switched to more environmentally safe peroxide-based strippers and modern primers. “It’s good for the environment, and good for these [employees],” he said, even though the new stripper takes about twice as long to remove the paint from a jet as a previous solution.
Another way that employees are protected is the recently installed decontamination chamber that people must go through to enter the paint shop. This removes any scraps of harmful substances, especially from footwear, as technicians leave the facility. “We don’t want anyone to take hexavalent chromium 6 home,” Wood said. “As a company we have to do everything we can to prevent that.”
In the avionics shop, Jet Aviation technicians manufacture wiring harnesses, rather than outsourcing the work to a third party. One Global jet green completion, for example, requires 10,000 crimped contacts, 5,500 wire ties and 11 miles of wire.
In early October, the company received FAA STC approval of a Rockwell Collins FANS 1/A solution for the Challenger 604. Blake Hogge, senior manager of avionics sales at Jet Aviation St. Louis, said the FANS 1/A upgrade can be done at his shop, “with minimal downtime and cost,” during either a scheduled or nonscheduled maintenance event.
There is much more to see at Jet Aviation St. Louis and inside its many hangars, which seem to keep growing every year. The company also operates a full-service FBO at St. Louis Downtown Airport.