Eric Gillespie, Executive Vice President at Flying Colours, on the company’s Singapore venture
Q: How is business, now that we are starting on the second quarter of 2016, and given that the first quarter GDP figures for the US, which are just out, are not exactly spectacular?
A: The economic climate could be better, certainly. However, we are very busy and we are still growing. Plus all of our facilities are full. We have seen particular growth in MRO services for longer range heavy aircraft. We have Global 5000s and Global 6000s in our hangars, undergoing heavy maintenance. Actually, our ability to do this has triggered and continues to trigger a lot of interest from owners and operators. Our core standard customer group has been adding to their fleets, so that is good too and generates additional work for the future for us. All in all, we are pretty satisfied with the way things are running right now.
Q: What are you seeing on the completions side? Is there any slowdown in the light of the new models coming through in 2019 from Airbus and Boeing?
A: For us the opposite is true. There are a load of options out there when it comes to new aircraft, that’s a fact. But at least half our business is on the refurbishment side. It is still very much a buyer’s market out there, but in North America the refurbishment space has been pretty active. Admittedly, other parts of the world are down, and they are definitely not doing as well as they were a few years ago. But from our perspective there is no slowdown. We have a full pipeline of work on the refurbishment side and 2017 is already looking good with bookings.
Q: How is your Singapore operation going?
A: It is very busy and is now fully operational. It was a year in preparation before that but today the shop is full, mainly with Globals and Challengers. We have around 16 people in the facility now and we have added a further five recently. We trained up the original team of local workers by flying them out to the US for a few months training. Then we flew four of our people over from Canada for a year to help set up the Singapore operation. However, the core team are all from the region and we are working to build up and develop their skills. The facility is very well located and can draw customers from around the region.
Q: You are based in the Bombardier refurbishment centre. How is thatworking out?
A: It works very well for us. We are a trusted partner of Bombardier, and as a consequence we are doing a lot of work on the longer range Bombardier jets and a fair bit on the smaller aircraft as well. We are getting a good reputation in the area for quality work and people are bringing their aircraft to us, even if they are not Bombardier jets. This is, of course, very good for us and we work on everything at the facility, and we are finding ways of fitting it all in.
Q: How is your joint venture with the Chinese operation, Sparkle Roll Tecknik, going?
A: We formed the venture in April last year to work together on a series of VIP conversions of the CRJ-200 regional airliner. That is progressing very well. Three of the CRJ-200s are currently in our facility and work is well under way on them. They are being configured from a regional jet cabin layout to a mixed-class shuttle format, with three separate cabin areas. Their aft sections are being given a 20-seat economy section. The middle of the aircraft now has four business class seats in two double-club layouts, and the front cabin has a three-seat divan and a double-club configuration. We are also putting in a galley for catering.
We have been doing various CRJ conversions for around a decade now, and it has become a specialised niche of ours. We completed the first conversion a month ago. Initially, when we started doing these conversions the demand was all for Challenger 850s, and there was a three to four backlog on them. So the new owners of CRJs wanted us to make the jet look like an 850 as far as the interior was concerned. Now 10 years on we are still doing these conversions, but this time for VVIPs and for medical evacuation aircraft. We have a very good understanding of the CRJ and how to do a wide range of conversions on it. We know where the problem areas are and how to overcome them. The knowledge base we have built up on this aircraft is now excellent.
One of the interesting features of these conversions is that the aircraft, as China-registered jets, came to our North American facility for the fitting out and all the modifications were done under the auspices of the Chinese Aviation Authority. The CAA came to our facility here to approve the aircraft, which then go back to China, where they are operated as Chinese-registered aircraft. So that was unique, to have heavy modifications done in Canada and approved by the CAA. It shows that we have a very good relationship with the Chinese aviation authorities.
We have also developed a long history of doing green CRJ facilities straight from the factory, and we have so far completed some 15 of these. We have the STD for the 850 modification validated by the Chinese Aviation Authority. So we have put in the time to learn the procedures that they go through. It is not far different from the FAA, but it takes time to know your way around them. We have also got to know a number of the major operators over there and that helped. They saw that we followed the rules and did things right first time, so that helped keep the CAA onside with us!
Q: How is your North American facility doing now?
A: North America is going very well for us. We have 250 people here in Canada and 125 at our Missouri facility at St Louis, and the pipeline of work for both our North American locations is very steady. Here in Peterborough we are busy doing heavy maintenance on the Challengers and Globals, plus refurbishments, and we have a paint shop here. We are really seeing tremendous demand on the paint shop side as owners look to refresh the appearance of their aircraft. At present we do not have a paint shop at our St Louis facility but we are actively looking into adding one there. Peterborough has three paint bays. Right now we have a Challenger 300 and a Hawker 900 being painted. All in all, we are pretty confident that 2016 will be another good year for us.