Mike Manning, Co-founder of Dallas Aeronautical Services, on being better than the competition
There is one sure formula for growing a business year by year. It’s not rocket science. All you need to do is be better than the competition – something, of course, that is much more easily said than done! Dallas Aeronautical Services (DAS) has turned in a healthy 20% year-on-year growth every year since it was launched in 2005.
That would be a great achievement in any sector, but the company has achieved this solid growth in one of the most competitive spaces, the MRO market, at a time when the entire business aviation sector has been struggling with low-to-no growth.
As Mike Manning, Co-founder and Vice President of the company explains, the business began with in-depth engineering skills, advising clients on composites and helping them to fulfil first article approvals on parts manufacturing. However, Manning and Co-founder Don Snodgrass assembled a small team of skilled mechanics and engineers, people with a long history of experience working on a range of business jets, and within a year Dallas Aeronautical Services had successfully applied for certification as a Part 145 repair station.
“We had experience working across the whole gamut of business jets, from Bombardier Challengers to Hawker 900s and Cessna Citations and that really differentiated us from the competition, who tended to specialise in one or another OEM’s models,” he says. For nearly all its 11 years in the MRO field, the company has specialised in business jets and has only just begun to do some work on commercial aircraft.
For Manning, this focus on business jets has been part of the key to DAS’s success. “The only work outside business jets we did was on military versions of those same jets, so it gave us a really good opportunity to get very good at just one thing, namely business jets,” he comments.
Having laid that base of knowledge and experience over more than a decade, he feels the time is now right to apply the company’s deep engineering expertise to commercial jets and helicopters via DAS’s Brazilian subsidiary, a relatively recent venture.
“We opened the Brazil facility about a year ago and we are up to 16 people there now. The great thing about running a Part 145 shop in Brazil is that there are not that many people out there providing MRO services to business jets,” he observes.
The Brazilian economy, being heavily dependent on commodities, is suffering at present, with the Brazilian currency, the real, well down against the US dollar. However, that is playing well for DAS as it has been able to fund the costs associated with starting up the Brazilian operation with the strong dollar.
“We’ve been very pleased with the quality of the engineering team we’ve recruited in Brazil. The mechanics and engineers are very talented. We bring them to the US to train them and many of them not only speak good English, but have French and Italian as well. They are really smart,” he comments.
When it started out, DAS’s niche was in composites consultancy and repair, which was Snodgrass’s speciality, and in repairing spares for out-of-production aircraft, where the OEM’s stock of spares had run thin or dry. “Initially, when we started out, we were filling gaps where the OEMs had walked away. We did well out of that but then the OEMs noticed the good work we were doing and we started to get work directly from them,” Manning recalls.
One example is Textron asking DAS to work out a mod for one of their farings. “They had a duct assembly in what turned out to be the wrong position, so we were asked to relocate the duct as a free replacement for the customer, with Textron footing the bill. They knew that we can do quick turnaround warranty work, so that helps the customer to minimise down time, which means the OEM retains the customer’s goodwill,” he explains.
Another example was with Gulfstream on the G5 spoilers. “The OEM has a 10-year guarantee on the spoilers but they never last 10 years. The owner doesn’t want a spoiler that looks corroded and spoils the ramp appeal of the aircraft, so again, a fast turnaround works for everyone,” he notes.
On the G150, Manning points out, Gulfstream has not been able to rely on the original Israeli manufacturer as much as it might wish to, so now operators with this jet will call in and Gulfstream will direct the customer directly to DAS to solve their parts problem.
“The big ticket, big earner item for us for quite a while now has been the thrust reversers in the G4 market, as well as the thrust reversers on the Cessna and G200s. We also did a few Falcon reversers as well. However, the G4 reversers have been meat and potatoes for us. We will soon have an approved manual to overhaul the reversers on the Global Express and the G550, so we are really looking forward to that,” he comments.
Another good line of business has been the inlet assemblies on the Challenger 300s, the G200s and the Learjet. “We have a reputation for doing the best repair and refit mods on the inlet assemblies. We completely rebond them instead of doing limited repairs like replacing the mesh. We completely rebuild the barrels, which keeps the engines from digesting bits of skin panel. If bits start going into the engine that, in turn, is going to give the owner a humungous bill for an engine overhaul or replacement, and make them very unhappy. So getting the mod done in good time, with a fast turnaround, makes a lot of sense,” he sums up.
Part of the problem with the inlets is that a lot of the new inlets on more recent models have perforated skin and a wire mesh to keep out debris. They are definitely quieter than the old inlets, but they don’t have the same lasting power, and this affects everything from the G5 to the G500s and the Challenger 300s, Manning says.
“This is just a factor of how aircraft age and how you keep them running and airworthy. We stay very close to the operators and we get very early indicators of where they are starting to have problems, and we work out solutions so when the market in general hits those issues, we are way ahead of the game,” he comments.
“Major operators like NetJets and Flexjet do far more sorties than the average operator so they can give a very reliable early warning on emerging issues on the jets they fly. Another good source for us is the military versions of aircraft like the G4; the military fly them so much that they are like the canaries in a coalmine!” Manning adds.
In his view, slow economy or not, this is a great time to be in MRO with business jets, if you have the right skills base. “The good thing about business jets is that the owners generally do not tolerate them looking scruffy. Look at the nose cone on a commercial jet and it looks like it’s been hit by a million shards of ice. Look at the same cone on a business jet and the odds are that it is going to be nice and shiny new. Owners like fast turn times and they will pay for the privilege – which South West Airlines certainly won’t,” he adds.
With the G4 mandatory inspections coming due shortly, Manning reckons that DAS expects to be busy for some time to come. “There are so many of the older jets that are now past their 5,000 cycles so the growth potential that we see inside the Textron, Bombardier and Gulfstream fleets is huge.”