Gama Aviation is building on almost four decades of business aviation MRO experience, with new approvals extending its maintenance excellence beyond a core of expertise in the Challenger, Global and King Air
Early in 2021, Gama Aviation reorganised into three strategic business units, Business Aviation, Special Mission, and Technology & Outsource, each focussing an aspect of the company’s prolific expertise on a primary market. Founded in 1983 as a general aviation services provider, Gama Aviation has expanded its capability beyond business aviation to include military and parapublic special missions and operations, ranging from aircraft role modification up to complete service delivery, including fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft provision, crewing and support.
Much of Gama Aviation’s work has grown naturally out of its business aviation expertise, the organisation’s continuing deep affiliation with the King Air turboprop helping fuel its special missions work. In pure business aviation terms, Gama Aviation’s focus is on the management, maintenance and operation of business aircraft, including in-house MRO, FBO and charter capabilities. While the UK and Middle East are the company’s key markets, Gama Aviation acquired US company Jet East around the time of its 2021 reorganisation, adding a strong MRO presence in the world’s largest business aviation market to its portfolio.
Back in the UK, Gama Aviation operates out of several locations, but its primary MRO site is at Bournemouth, Dorset. The facility includes a recently refurbished hangar that is among the largest capacity civilian hangars in the UK, and a large stores and logistics operation. A portion of the engineering capacity is assigned to managed aircraft, with the remainder available to other Gama Aviation affiliated customers or those simply seeking a top quality MRO, especially for King Air, Challenger and Global aircraft.
The fact that Gama Aviation is also an operator means it is able to offer supplementary or alternative lift while aircraft are in maintenance. A useful service, it has the added benefit of allowing owners to experience other aircraft types, perhaps prompting future acquisitions. Gama Aviation’s MRO pricing model is transparent and, on the basis that ‘cheap’ is seldom good in aviation, it would rather lose work than artificially lower prices.
This transparency extends to the hangar floor, where Gama Aviation has welcomed the growing trend of client teams bringing in third-party continuing airworthiness managers (CAM) and advisors to provide oversight on heavy maintenance projects. On a deep check, for example, close engagement with a CAM and client team also enables discussion around aircraft upgrade and refurbishment.
Late in April 2022, a Bombardier Global Express was disassembled in the hangar undergoing its 240-month check, for example, after a handful of similar airframes passed though on 120-month checks over the past 12 months. Deep maintenance episodes such as this present ideal opportunities for cockpit and cabin avionics upgrades, satellite connectivity installation and cabin refurbishment, all of them more relevant than ever to customers in today’s fast-paced market.
Such deep maintenance is the foundation that any MRO seeks, but right now Gama Aviation is also taking plenty of work generated by the used aircraft market, offering further opportunities. Paul Kinch, Director, Engineering Service Line, explains: “Buyers need pre-purchase inspections [PPI] as part of the transaction and those will often generate other work. New owners might want to upgrade connectivity, change the interior or have a repaint, for example, and that’s an opportunity for us to engage.”
Potential customers and third parties typically come to Gama Aviation for PPIs when they are buying or selling a Challenger or Global. In that case, beyond calling on its engineering team, the company also brings in expertise from elsewhere in the group for a detailed examination of the aircraft records. The result is a holistic picture of the jet’s condition that ensures trust in the aircraft, its valuation and the quality of the service provided.
Industry veteran Paul Kinch is Gama Aviation’s newly appointed Director, Engineering Service Line. Barely a month into the job when he spoke to EVA, he is actually an old hand at the company. “In 1984 I worked as an engineer at Gama Aviation, alongside the founding directors, when it had its first King Air. I subsequently went off and set up my own business, sold it, then went to work with Qatar Airways. I came back to the UK and now I’m at Gama Aviation again.”
Kinch is based at Bournemouth and says when it comes to the Challenger, Global and King Air, the only service currently not available on site is cabin interior refurbishment. For wood veneers, carpets, lighting and other cabin furnishings, Gama Aviation works with trusted suppliers although there is an ambition to bring more of the work into the Bournemouth workshops. Third parties are also used where full exterior paint is required, but otherwise Bournemouth offers what Kinch terms ‘one-stop, seamless service’ for all other work on its core types, while other approvals are scheduled for this year. It is also important to remember that Gama Aviation has further UK centres offering complementary capabilities, including King Airs and helicopters in Glasgow, and more services in Doncaster.
Kinch’s long association with Gama Aviation is indicative of the depth of experience enjoyed by the leadership team, in an industry where personal networks and trust built while navigating aviation’s ups and downs are worth as much as any corporate structure. And that’s especially true in the post-pandemic era, where the robust supply chain MROs enjoyed in the past has been replaced by global logistics and parts supply challenges.
Even a network as strong as Kinch’s struggles, and Boris Wolstenholme, recently appointed managing director of the Business Aviation strategic business unit, sees an opportunity for Gama Aviation to begin reconditioning parts for its own and other MROs’ use. Wolstenholme’s background is in aircraft parts and he notes that the company’s maintenance hubs have space for parts inventory and are ideally positioned to connect into existing logistics channels.
Inevitably, Gama Aviation also faces the employment challenges common to the sector, where it is incredibly difficult to attract talented people, especially young talented people, into aviation. “Gama Aviation is committed to its own long-term strategy, having developed a Part 147 maintenance training organisation,” Kinch says. “You can’t find people ‘off the shelf’ with the experience we need, so we have an induction process and apprentice scheme. We have six apprentices today and we’ll be recruiting three every year, so three qualified engineers will join the team every year starting in five years from now. And that’s just Bournemouth, we are taking another apprentice in Glasgow.”
Young people are all about technology, but some seasoned engineers have been known to distrust digital when paper and a greasy thumbprint have seen them through a long career. That’s very much not the case at Gama Aviation. “We like to embrace technology,” Kinch says. Having said that, he notes that older airframes are not digital, although there is little that can be done with a brand new aircraft without the correct technology. “We have tablets on the hangar floor and engineers book their time live on their phones. The system also allocates tasks. Imagine one of ten engineers on an aircraft with 500 tasks, then that engineer only sees the tasks allocated to them and the hours required.
“We’re transitioning to fully digital at Bournemouth over the coming year or so, while Glasgow is already virtually paperless. I’ve already seen our younger technicians telling the older guys they don’t even need a laptop anymore when they can achieve something more quickly on a tablet or phone.” Kinch is also deeply enthusiastic about preventative maintenance and the benefits of aircraft connectivity in fault diagnosis.
Gama Aviation’s technological focus extends to aircraft upgrade and it has expertise in all flight deck avionics, cabin management systems, satellite connectivity solutions and more. “Satcom, high-speed internet, is now an essential, especially for charter operations, and that’s something we are pushing quite hard, with some great packages on offer,” Kinch notes.
In the US, Gama Aviation has traditionally supported large fleet operators with heavy checks, line maintenance and AOG, a provision it has reinforced through the Jet East brand. Overnight and pre-emptive line maintenance plus access to a strong AOG support network helps minimise downtime for these fleets and it is a model now being introduced into the UK. Gama Aviation already has a major fleet owner signed up and is developing new AOG provision, with mobile service units, as part of the package. Details of the operator have yet to be released, but the deal will add new type approvals, further expanding Gama Aviation’s capabilities.
Meanwhile, Bournemouth will remain the central hub for Challenger, Global and King Air maintenance while more line stations come online, strategically positioned at volume hubs or where demand is strong. At the same time, Gama Aviation’s existing hubs, including those at Glasgow and Sharjah, will see continuing investment as approvals and teams expand.
Paul Kinch has known Gama Aviation for almost 40 years. His philosophy encapsulates the company ethos. “When Gama Aviation delivers an aeroplane, I want it to be reliable. I want the customer to be happy.”