FEAM is opening an expanded aircraft hangar facility at Miami International Airport. How will this new facility serve FEAM’s business?
What we did is we gave the Miami hangar a facelift. We had to do the 40-year recertification on it, and part of that recertification was adding some different back shops and different areas to the hangar to try to help support customers at a greater level. It was especially hard to do all of this during COVID. But we’ve outfitted it so that when new customers are coming in and out, it’s a lot easier.
You’ve also continued hiring efforts alongside facility growth. Where are you adding jobs, and is there high demand for any specific maintenance skills?
We’ve seen a lot of demand, especially at the new locations that we’re starting and we’re servicing, whether that’s Portland (PDX), Cincinnati (CVG) or Baltimore (BWI). We’re going to be opening in Los Angeles (LAX) and Austin (AUS) as well.
When it comes to specific aviation skills, A&P mechanics and avionics technicians are definitely in high demand. If you were ranking it, I think that there’s so many different niches and aviation is so fragmented that for someone who has an A&P license, it’s a good time to be in aviation for line maintenance.
Pre-pandemic, the MRO industry was experiencing challenges in finding enough skilled workers. What measures is FEAM taking to ensure it can fill its workforce pipeline, and do you have any initiatives in place to attract a more diverse workforce?
We were a company that was really founded on diversity. My parents are interracial and when the company was first started, before we were FEAM, we were F&E Aircraft Maintenance. The F stands for “Fred” and the E stands for “Everett.” Fred, my father, is white and Everett is black. That’s how the company was founded on these principles of diversity and inclusion. We try to have that at every level.
We support Women in Aviation International when it comes to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and would like to see more women in aviation. It’s an area that we are not only trying to donate to, but we have different people from inside the organization that give speeches and mentor. We also want to be racially diverse as well, so we have some different initiatives for DEI. Every industry is going to have different DEI initiatives, but for us, we want to connect with those communities that are not aware of the A&P mechanic job path.
We have a yearly scholarship that we give at Florida Memorial University, a historical black college. We have formal relationships with them. We also support the Greater Miami Aviation Association, where we give scholarships as well. We’re also in the midst of creating a mentorship program to continue developing these deeper pipelines of diversity and growing people, because if we don’t see representation, we say, ‘We can either go out and try to find it, or we can try to grow it,’ and from where we are as an organization, we’re really trying to grow these different areas.
How has the pandemic affected demand for FEAM’s services, and has it forced any shifts in the types of activities you have been focused on?
It’s definitely shifted. I think what the pandemic’s done for everybody is expedited certain things. For example, technology has had a huge increase and impact in the business, so it’s an area where we’ve had to make sure that we were being a little more aggressive and ahead of the curve.
One of the things we did and are still doing this year is developing a software that we believe will deliver airlines more flight time and less downtime to help them manage their maintenance headaches. It’s going to reduce the time it takes us to turn aircraft and also increase the visibility and efficiency. For airlines, we’ll be able to take their data sets and actually help them plan maintenance and maximize their ground time. The reason that we did it is that there’s nothing in the market like this—we’ve searched high, low, behind rocks and across the world to find something to fill this need and there’s nothing on the market, so we developed our own.
Our core business is outsourced aircraft line maintenance. We feel that that segment is somewhat always in demand as aircraft fly and operators generally need line maintenance support, as opposed to other segments in MRO where they have peaks and valleys. Obviously, the pandemic has put a whole new focus on an airline operator’s viewpoint when it comes to staffing, capital expenditure (CapEx) and overall cost of running line maintenance operations. One of the things that it’s done for existing passenger airline customers is that we were able to effectively scale back our support, thus reducing their costs during this time. And, conversely, as they needed to ramp up support, they were able to do it effectively, right sizing the operation as needed.
One of benefits of being an outsourced line maintenance provider is that people are able to scale up and scale down at a moment’s notice depending on demand, and the airline itself doesn’t have these different CapEx costs, staffing costs and overall costs of facilities and all these other things. I believe that this is going to be a growing trend that will continue post pandemic as airlines look for scalable and flexible options. I think that’s one thing that’s really propelled us, because as the market has been changing—whether it’s an international, domestic or cargo customer—we’ve been able to scale up and throttle back.
FEAM was able to weather the storm at the height of the pandemic by focusing on freighter and regional operations. Has that continued, and if so, how is it going?
Right now for FEAM the freighter market continues to be very busy. Even though I know it’s not easy for the staffing and scheduling at times, the freighter market is one of the reasons that we’re growing because the cargo industry has definitely seen an uptick
Our domestic flying customers are starting to see an uptick a little bit—not a dramatic uptick, but specifically for the regional and low-cost carrier markets. Obviously right now international passenger traffic has been slow to recover, but I think that, like everybody else, we’re hopeful that as we get deeper into 2021 we’re going to start seeing an uptick there as well.