Wanted to carry much by way of a comprehensive parts inventory. That created the opening for Butch Giessman, who began with an inventory of spare parts purchased from another operator, and then moved on to buying working aircraft and breaking them down for spares. In those early years, he specialized in the Sabreliner fleet. AVMATS can justifiably claim to have been a forerunner in providing alternatives to high priced OEM parts and for generally improving the availability of parts.
“Today’s competitive parts-pricing and the choices enjoyed by operators are largely due to AVMATS’ unwillingness to accept the status quo in the industry as far as parts-sourcing is concerned,” says Justin Giessman.
“In many instances, reducing the aircraft down to its parts can generate far more revenue than the aircraft is worth as a flight-worthy asset,” he notes.
When Butch Giessman left Midcoast Aviation in 1978 to start up his own business selling aircraft parts from his garage, he could have had little idea just how far AVMATS would develop through the course of the next thirty-seven years. As well as a parts distribution business, AVMATS now has in-depth engineering and composite manufacturing and repair capabilities – to the point where even airframe OEMs and the company’s competition call on its services.
Giessman’s son, Justin, now President of AVMATS, recalls that at the time his father launched the company, because of taxes, few companies
Butch Giessman named the company AVMATS, an acronym for Aviation Material and Technical Support. AVMATS still frequently reduces aircraft for their parts; however, AVMATS now has a very sophisticated array of back shops. Every item taken from an aircraft that is being broken down for parts is now processed through one of AVMATS’ back shops to restore it to near-new and comes complete with an FAA 8130 airworthiness approval tag.
“The engine parts go through our turbine shop, the structural parts through our structural shop and the components through the components shop. The depth of our capabilities is what sets us apart from the competition,” Justin Giessman notes.
The maintenance side also has its origins in Butch Giessman’s earlier approach. “He would sell parts all day, then go out and install them for the customer in the evening and sign them off. Things reached the point where my father opened up a maintenance shop in a hangar he leased, just to meet the demand stemming from the sale of the parts,” Justin Giessman remembers.
This grew into a separate subsidiary, called Corpair Supply Company, now AVMATS Component Support, specializing in accessory and component overhaul capabilities. In fact, customer demand has driven virtually each new development in AVMATS’ history, and everything it has accomplished has been attained by developing and nurturing the additional skills internally. As Giessman notes, AVMATS has never acquired another operation. All growth has been generated internally.
“For example, we started the MRO station because customer demand reached the point where, instead of sending brakes and wheels out to be fixed, it made more sense to do them in-house. That meant additional employees, so the business grew yet again,” Justin reflects.
AVMATS now has approximately 200 employees, with the bulk of its operations in the St. Louis, Missouri area. “We have facilities at Spirit of St. Louis Airport and MidAmerica Airport, where the company developed a 27,000 square foot FBO. We also have a parts and services facility in Bournemouth, England, which we started about 15 years ago,” he explains.
In all, AVMATS’ subsidiaries now occupy more than 10 acres at four physical locations, supporting 46,000 square feet of hangars and attached shops, plus over 100,000 square feet of warehouse facilities, 20,000 square feet of dedicated component and accessory overhaul space and 42,000 square feet of engine and APU shop space.
The move to Spirit of St. Louis Airport began in the late 1980s with the construction of four hangars and shop facilities at the airport. This enabled AVMATS to expand into maintenance and structural repair services for the Falcon, Hawker, Sabreliner, Beechcraft, Learjet, Challenger, Gulfstream and Citation models. “We added a full complement of avionics parts and installation sales along with the construction and certification of a complete, state-of-the-art instrument shop,” Giessman observes. This led to AVMATS establishing dealerships with all of the major avionics manufacturers. Today, AVMATS is an authorized Honeywell Line Service Center for the TFE731 and CFE738 engines. We also have capabilities on the Pratt & Whitney JT12 and JT15D and GE CF700 Engines, as well as the Honeywell GTCP 36-150 Series and Sundstrand T-62T Series APUs,” he comments.
“We specialize in certain OEMs and models, including Falcons, Hawkers, Gulfstreams, Learjets and the Sabreliner fleet. We also overhaul JT15D engines. That has worked out very well for us since the aircraft come to us for maintenance work on the engines, and we end up doing a good deal of upgrading and refitting while the engines are being serviced,” Giessman says.
AVMATS’ main specialty is the legacy fleet, but it has also done a significant amount of work on new jets. “One of the things our engineers are really good at is being innovative when it comes to devising repair solutions. For example, the Hawker 800 has a problem with corrosion on its leading edges. We are able to machine new leading edges and fit them.”
“One of the unique things about AVMATS is that our deep capabilities mean that many of our competitors are also our best customers. They use our back shops to machine or refurbish parts for them, and they compete with us on maintenance contracts,” he says. The beauty of this, from his perspective, is that if AVMATS loses out to one of its competitors on a major inspection contract, there is a good chance that it will still see some action on any shop work that is required.
“We’ll still get a piece of the pie, even if we don’t get the whole pie. So we respect our competitors and they respect us. You don’t throw your competition under the bus in conversations with customers because these are the same guys that are feeding your shops! We’re always looking at the big picture. Even some of the larger MRO stations do not have as deep of a capability set as we do,” he notes.
One of the more recent specialties AVMATS has added to its portfolio of skills is composite fabrication and repairs. “Again, we got drafted into this via customer demand. Several customers wanted us to help them and there are plenty of MROs that need this service. We have moved into building interior completions shell kits for the Global Express line and for Challenger 600 series aircraft. We opened that up in 2013, initially to meet a growing demand for repairs to composite shells and airframes. We brought over Bill Keener, a 40-year veteran of the composite industry, and he brought deep knowledge of composite fabrication as well as repair, which got us started on the composite shell kits and PSU panels (the lighting and air vent panels above passenger seats), as well as composite side panels.”
Opportunities just keep coming. For example, AVMATS has developed a program to reskin thrust reverser doors on the JT15D engine because these parts have a tendency to crack. “We developed a complete reskin program which fixes this problem completely. So not only do end users come to us for this, the MROs come to us as well. It all helps to spread the word about our deep expertise,” Giessman says.
With all this success, does Giessman feel the need to look for private equity funding to add scale to the business? Not at all. “It all depends on where you want to go with your business. If you want large scale, then that takes more capital and you have to go to the big Wall Street players. When you do this, it drives your hand henceforth. We have a passion about maintaining aircraft, but we do not sit here saying we want to grow it huge. What we want is to grow it strong!”