WASHINGTON — An Irvine aircraft maintenance firm is trying to break into a burgeoning new market by building a $5-million facility near Mojave to recondition aging commercial aircraft, including jumbo jets, company officials announced Thursday.
"There is a need for a new and emerging industry. . . . We call it the independent air-transport maintenance industry," said W.R. Laidlaw, founder and chief executive officer of Aerotest Inc., which has made a modest living by servicing smaller corporate jets.
The Mojave plant will be the first independent airframe repair facility in California and only the fourth in the nation capable of major, nose-to-tail overhauls of aging jumbo jets, company officials said. Many airlines operate their own modernizing facilities, they said.
Aerotest officials declined to say if the firm had signed up any customers for its new plant, but they said they have had talks with major airlines and cargo carriers.
"It makes more sense . . . to service the needs of a major air carrier or carrier family," said Laidlaw, rather than work on several types of aircraft for different customers.
Aerotest estimated that demand for rebuilding and modernizing the bodies of aging aircraft will increase dramatically in coming years as the number of jet transport planes, both passenger and cargo, 20 or more years old rises from 2,440 in 1988 to 5,731 in 2000.
Coupled with an expected doubling in demand for jet-transport service, company officials said they expect the number of man-hours required each year to maintain the world's jet fleet will rise from 89 million in 1988 to 189 million by the end of the century.
Airlines and cargo businesses will not be able to keep up with the demand to maintain and refit their airplanes, Laidlaw said.
"It looks like it will be a growing business," said Edward J. Starkman, an airline industry analyst for PaineWebber Inc. in New York. "You've got a capacity pinch in this (aircraft maintenance) business. To the extent they can offer a first-rate, certificated program to do this sort of work, it makes sense."
Attending Aerotest's Capitol Hill press conference Thursday morning were several members of Congress, including Rep. C. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), and officials of the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses aircraft repair and maintenance personnel and facilities.
"What Aerotest is doing in California is of great importance," Cox said. "I'm very appreciative that investors, management, qualified people in the private sector are turning their attention to this problem."
Aerotest last month broke ground for a 125,000-square-foot facility, including a 75,000-square-foot hangar, at the Mojave airport as the first phase of a planned $30-million jet-reconditioning facility. Eventually, the company plans to build six hangars and other buildings, totaling 500,000 square feet, on a 39-acre site.
The private company, which employs about 200 at existing facilities in Mojave, Van Nuys and Irvine, was formed in 1986 and has annual revenue of about $23 million, said Iain Glendinning, the company's president.
So far, the company has concentrated almost exclusively on the maintenance and finishing of corporate jets, primarily Gulf Stream aircraft. Last year it purchased Western Commander, which operates a Van Nuys aviation services firm called the Jet Center.
Glendinning cited three other U.S. firms that either have or are about to develop the capability to modernize airframes of jumbo jets. They are the Dee Howard Co., which operates a facility in San Antonio, Tex.; Evergreen International Aviation, Inc., which owns the Evergreen Air Center in Marana, Ariz.; and Tramco Inc. in Everett, Wash.
JET TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT 20 OR MORE YEARS OLD
Number of Number of Number of Aircraft Aircraft Aircraft Manufacturer Type 1989 1995* 2000* Airbus A-300 0 20 125 Boeing B-707/720 337 397 435 B-727 737 1,123 1,647 B-737 221 419 699 B-747 31 265 487 British Aerospace BAC-111 159 196 211 Fokker F-28 10 84 144 Lockheed L-1011 0 123 193 McDonnell Douglas DC-8 299 342 342 DC-9 511 745 894 DC-10 0 202 328 MD-80 0 0 7 All others Misc. 135 186 219 Totals 2,440 4,102 5,731
* without further attrition and retirement
\o7 Source: Aviation Information Services Ltd.\f7