MRO Memo: Lindsay and Lee Ann’s North Carolina Adventure

Lindsay Bjerregaard and Lee Ann Shay
Lindsay Bjerregaard and Lee Ann Shay

When Lindsay Bjerregaard and I got invited to go to North Carolina, we jumped at the opportunity. First of all, summer road trips are always fun, and the destination was beautiful North Carolina.

Furnitureland South
Lindsay and Lee Ann at the "world's largest furniture store" in High Point, North Carolina.

Not only did we visit two big MROs—HAECO in Greensboro and Collins Aerospace in Monroe, but we stopped at a few interesting places in between (including what claims to be the world’s largest furniture store. Here’s us in High Point, North Carolina.)

First of all, we were fortunate to be able to have in-depth conversations with several top executives of each company.

A few themes stood out: finding and keeping labor, sustainability and technology implementations to make processes easier and more efficient. The three are all connected—it’s about working smarter, right? We witnessed ways HAECO and Collins Aerospace are being proactive to address these key issues.

Two short people-related things I’d like to share.

HAECO’s Lake City, Florida, facility pre-pandemic relied largely on a single customer, which pulled its work when COVID-19 halted traffic. Instead of laying off people, even though it didn’t have aircraft to maintain, it revitalized the facility, provided pro bono work and volunteered for local organizations such as the Humane Society and a women’s shelter. It devoted “several 100,000 hrs. to the community” and organized the big projects, like an airframe check to keep people and projects organized, says Steve Coley, general manager of HAECO’s Greensboro facility. The end result was a big help to Lake City and a morale booster for employees, who kept their pay checks.

Visiting Collins’ new additive manufacturing facility was the original impetus for our road trip. The new facility is across the street from its 160,000 ft.2 MRO facility in Monroe (southeast of Charlotte) and Collins employs approximately 220 people between the two sites. During the ribbon cutting ceremony, the mayor of Monroe said the area is home to the largest aerospace cluster, about 20 companies, in North Carolina and employs about 4,500 citizens. While this is good, it also means there’s a lot of job competition in the area.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony
The ribbon cutting ceremony for Collins Aerospace's new additive manufacturing facility.

Mary DeStaffan, general manager of the Monroe site, says the MRO facility’s culture encourages employees to suggest better ways to do things, which leads to continuous improvement. At least 80% of ideas come from the shop floor. As improvements to make tasks faster or better are implemented, she says those ideas are shared across the group as best practices.

She points out that the MRO site “has done a great job of cross-training people across product lines, which not only helps technicians develop more skills and progress through a career path, it helps when surges occur, so people can shift if needed. They can ramp up and flex quickly.”

You’ll find more details from our aviation adventure in North Carolina in upcoming issues of Inside MRO and in MRO Digest, but in the meantime, we offer some travel tips and trivia from our road trip.

Greensboro: Did you know that the town used to be the hub of denim manufacturing? Support a local business and stay at the Hotel Denim while you’re there.

The city is also home to the Woolworth Five & Dime where student activists sat at the “whites only” counter on Feb. 1, 1960. The sit-in grew for several weeks and by that summer, Greensboro had integrated restaurants. The site now houses the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.

F.W. Woolworth building
The former store is now the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.

Charlotte: After a long day of walking across aircraft maintenance hangars and massive furniture stores, a great place to get southern soul food is Mert’s Heart & Soul. The restaurant has been visited by many famous figures, including politicians, musicians and athletes.

Nascar museum CharlotteDowntown Charlotte is also home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which Aviation Week Senior Transport Editor and automotive racing enthusiast Sean Broderick was more excited to see photos of than our aircraft views while waiting for our flight at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Charlotte Airport

It was interesting to notice gas prices were pretty consistent across the middle of the state. They were about $4.69 per gallon, compared to $5.80 or so in the Chicago area. For people making personal road trips this summer, gas isn’t going to be cheap!

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.