Fast 5: An MRO CEO’s Outlook On What’s Trending

Dave Davies, CEO of Constant Aviation, a business aviation MRO with facilities in the U.S. and an AOG support network, provides his outlook on how business aviation maintenance is recovering from the pandemic and how he sees his business evolving in the next few years. 

How has your business been impacted by the pandemic and what is your business outlook for 2021?

Like everybody else, flying dropped off 30-40% March to June 2020, which obviously meant maintenance dropped off.  Activity picked up in June-August last year because aircraft have calendar inspection items come due. People were looking for someplace to send their aircraft—and the majority of the decisions were based on whether the pilots felt safe. We implemented the country and state rules, as well as additional ones our quality assurance safety team put in place.

We saw a slow pickup for large maintenance packages in the second half of last year. We’re just now starting to see paint, interiors and avionics upgrades recover—we’re seeing a lot more traffic in 2021 in the ‘nice to have things,’ opposed to ‘required to have.’ Our interior shops in Cleveland and at Orlando Sanford are pretty full. We’re putting a $3.1 million add-on to our Sanford paint facility and that is pretty much booked until September. We’re seeing people dusting off their aircraft and doing things they probably wanted to do last year. We’re in the middle of hiring 60-65 technicians. We can see that flying is picking up and people are calling for quotes. We expect the third to fourth quarter of this year to be fairly busy, but we won’t be but back to 2018-19 levels in the hangars until the second quarter of 2022.

Let’s dive more into what’s coming back: paint, interiors and avionics upgrades. Would you please provide further details?

It’s a little bit of everything. Nobody brings their aircraft in for just paint. If they’re going to paint the plane, they’re going to do some interiors. And if they’re doing interiors there’s a good chance that they could do some connectivity work. Those jobs tend to stack up because once the plane is the hangar for 30-60 days, it’s the right time to do that work. Those jobs got put to the side last year because they’re not required. Our paint facility was pretty busy all last year but that was mostly after big calendar inspections—like the 7,500-cycle inspection.  That’s a natural time to repaint the aircraft because you’re taking panels off.

Dave Davies
Dave Davies

Business aviation has been attracting new people since the pandemic. Are you seeing the effects of this?

We are seeing a large quantity of pre-buy requests come through this year. We like them because that means there is a new aircraft or possible new owner or a charter operator that is expanding its fleet. In the second half of last year, we only saw two handfuls of pre-buys.

Constant has been expanding its AOG mobile response network. How will it look going forward?

The AOG team was down in 2020 but in last five years we’ve done 38,330 calls. We average about 500 per year, but even in 2020 we worked on 400 different aircraft. We have people based in about 20 cities and we’re hiring more right now. We are standing up AOG services in Seattle to Orlando this month. Last year, there was an appetite for our AOG team to do scheduled maintenance, so they would travel to the company’s hangar, which isn’t something we’d normally want to do—nor do the flight crews or aircraft owners typically want a scheduled maintenance event typing up their hangar. But last year it was a win-win across the board. 

Besides expanding your AOG network, are you planning to add any new capabilities, upgrades or facilities over the next few years?

We will be announcing some new projects and technology upgrades and enhancements to services and capabilities this year. There are quite a few things in the works. A lot of that is geared around technology and capability inside the aircraft and we’re always looking for facility expansions. We are looking at specific cities and other airports once or twice a month to see if they fit. We’re going to be very tactical about it because it’s not expansion for expansion’s sake. We are in the middle of expanding our footprint at Cleveland Hopkins airport—we’re working with the city for a long-term commitment. Our Stanford facility is probably the size it should be.

Lee Ann Shay

As executive editor of MRO and business aviation, Lee Ann Shay directs Aviation Week's coverage of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), including Inside MRO, and business aviation, including BCA.