JETMS Builds London-Based Competitor To European Completions Giants
Inflation is at a 40-year high, business leaders say the confidence needed to underpin investment is waning, and challenges remain for companies that operate across borders and into the European Union post-Brexit.
Despite all this, you cannot detect any lack of excitement about the UK's prospects when you talk to Keiron McNeill, managing director of JETMS Completions.
The company was formed when Lithuanian-headquartered JETMS bought London Biggin Hill Airport-based RAS Group in 2021; McNeill, a former chief technical officer at Loganair, was brought in to head up the rebranded firm in December. His vision for where the completions and interiors business is headed certainly is not lacking in ambition.
"What I want to build is a completions center to rival the main market players, and I believe we have all the constituent parts to do it," he says. "For too many years, it's all been about talent leaving the UK. If you look at the main market players in our world in aircraft completions, it's AMAC and Jet Aviation in Basel, Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg and Frankfurt, and RUAG. There's a lot of UK talent that works in Basel for these companies, and you've got to ask yourself why. Why are they going to Basel to work in aviation? We should be keeping these people in the UK."
To that end, JETMS plans to turn the former RAS Completions and Interiors businesses into a UK-based direct competitor to the big European completions houses. The existing businesses paint business-jet-sized aircraft, and design and manufacture aircraft interiors, providing a solid foundation on which to build. McNeill is convinced the market exists to make the concept viable. There are only a couple of other ingredients required.
"It needs energy and it needs a strategic plan," he says. "The strategic plan is multilayered. First thing is, Biggin Hill is the cultural home of this company, and it always will be. That's been guaranteed in many conversations with the airport, and reciprocally, we get massive support from Biggin Hill Airport just in being part of the ecosystem. We will increase our paint volume at Biggin Hill. We currently have one very large aircraft bay that you could probably paint three aircraft in - we're going to double that volume."
JETMS' parent company, Avia Solutions Group, has purchased a building on the Biggin Hill site which McNeill is currently mulling over how best to utilize. Planning permission has been granted for a new hangar which would increase capacity further. While the infrastructure takes shape, McNeill's focus is on staffing the organization.
"The client is best served if you have a good workforce that are respected," he says. "If you have a workforce that feels respected, don't be surprised if you've got the best quality, the best behaviors. It's a cultural piece that we're trying to build; everyone seems to want it."
This part, so far, is going well too, he says.
"We had quite a high percentage of contract labor here—a legacy contractor workforce," McNeill says. "The first thing I wanted to do was make them all permanent staff, because then we can start to ramp up terms and conditions. Not one contract staff member left."
And, while much talent already exists within the organization, and investment is taking place to expand capability, it is its position within a wider portfolio of allied companies that, McNeill says, will transform the business. Work on larger aircraft may not be possible at Biggin Hill, but the capacity exists elsewhere in the group.
"At group level, we can enter into a marketplace where we don't exist at the moment," he says. "The group owns Chevron, Storm Aviation. What tends to constrain people in the large-aircraft marketplace is infrastructure. At JETMS, can I do a 747? No, I can't. But come up a level [within] Avia Solutions Group: can we do a 747? Yes, we can, because we can do the design, part 21. We can do the manufacture, under part 21 or part 145. Our brothers in Chevron in Prestwick [in Scotland] hold full base maintenance approval for 747-400, 747-800, 787—you put all those constituent parts together, you have a widebody completion centre."