Independent MROs Investing In Capabilities, Growing Profits

By Henry Canaday
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

So far, it's all working well. AAR continues to expand airframe maintenance, seeking to bring widebody work back to the U.S., adding a new line to its Duluth, Minn., narrowbody hangar along with landing-gear capabilities.

Smaller companies also see opportunities in airframe work. Empire Aerospace conducts heavy checks and modifications for Empire Airlines and customers such as Horizon Air and FedEx. President Tim Komberec sees his niche in turboprops: ATRs, Bombardier Q400s, Saabs and Embraer Brasilias. “There are a limited number of turboprops in North America, but also a limited number of shops working on them,” Komberec notes.

Now, Empire is considering beginning to work on regional jets. Komberec sees a lot of aftermarket movement, especially for smaller RJs. “There are lots of CRJ200s grounded, and there is an opportunity for storage, teardowns, mods and returns to service.” Empire could start working on Bombardier CRJs at its four-bay hangar. If business goes well and it adds Embraer ERJ work, it could expand.

Komberec will go for it when he sees “the business is there and the economy is not going into the toilet.” He hopes to decide by the end of 2014. “Capital is not a problem. We can get capital if we need it because we have been very cautious.”

Commercial Aircraft Interiors (CAI) has been handling aircraft interior repairs, refurbishments and modifications since 2003, mostly on Boeing models but now also on Airbuses. With 62 employees, CAI wants to increase work on Bombardier and Embraer RJs, says Marketing Vice President Brian McKiernan.

In February 2013, CAI opened four new buildings—for repairs, machining and storage—close to Seattle. “We have been growing and plan to grow steadily,” McKiernan says. “We are getting more into long-term programs rather than one-off deals.”

In late 2013, CAI opened a new line for black and clear anodizing, work previously done outside. It has also brought composite work inside and is moving into cargo conversions. “The growth is internal; we are not looking to acquire or be acquired,” McKiernan says. If CAI lacks a needed capability, it looks for an ally that has it. “Five years from now, we plan to be larger, not for the sake of bigness, but to handle the kind of business we are looking for that comes in.” CAI would like to pursue more seating work to support Airbus widebodies and RJs.

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