December 28, 2008

Absolute Aviation takes off

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Howard Pumroy of Absolute Aviation works on a torque instrument from a prop plane recently at Spokane International Airport in Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

Airline passengers may grumble when they see airlines operating fewer flights than they once did.

For Absolute Aviation, however, airlines’ penny-pinching mentality is all good. That’s because airlines keep sending faulty strobe lights, power units and other items to the small, FAA-approved aviation repair station on Spokane’s West Plains.

That effort to control airline costs means Absolute Aviation has been steadily adding workers to handle the load.

About a third of the repairs performed by Absolute Aviation are for “unrepairable” items – non-working diodes, power supplies or coffee makers that airlines used to replace rather than fix.

 Air carriers now prefer repairing many of those problem units rather than spending more to replace them.

Privately held Absolute Aviation had 15 workers in late 2007. Today it employs 24, and its principals see that growth continuing – a bright spot in a bumpy economy.

Aerospace companies are not immune to layoffs. But firms such as Absolute Aviation have found a niche and should not face the problems hitting many companies, said Todd Woodard, director of marketing and public relations for Spokane International Airport.

“Because of the focus by airlines to cut costs, Absolute Aviation is in a good niche market. They’re in a good position to continue their growth,” said Woodard, a member of the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium, an alliance of 60 local businesses involved in aviation manufacturing or services.

The founders of Absolute Aviation, Randy Julin and Al Garr, know the firm is a small fish in an immense pond. “There are hundreds of other repair stations coming to the airlines every day” offering to fix components at reasonable costs, said Julin, the company’s general manager.

Their business approach is to emphasize Absolute’s quick turnaround, lower costs and reliable work record, Julin said.

It performs repairs for Delta, American, United and Allegiant airlines. When they land a new customer, it’s a big deal. “You have to have something special before they’ll make a change and add you as a vendor,” Julin said.

Out of thousands of electrical, optical and mechanical systems on most aircraft, Absolute Aviation has a tiny focus: electronic accessories, instruments and some of the communications devices that use radio.

The list includes coffee makers, which on commercial aircraft usually run $5,000 or more to replace. Julin said Absolute often can repair a defective coffee maker for about $2,500.

Some of its most frequent repair jobs involve high-voltage power supplies used on commercial aircraft. They often cost about $12,000 to $15,000 to replace. Absolute repairs them at a fraction of the cost, said Garr, the senior vice president for sales and marketing.

Beyond offering reliable work at lower cost, Absolute focuses on getting to the source of a chronic problem with airplane components.

“What we look for is not just fixing the (initial) equipment problem,” Julin said. “We look to the root cause and go a step further.”

When they find the malfunctioning piece, it allows the airline to use that equipment longer, Julin added.

Over the past year, the Spokane company has gained repair station approval by the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration. Absolute now is authorized to perform repairs for European airlines such as Lufthansa, KLM, Monarch and British Airways.

The company recently hired a United Kingdom representative to attract more business both in the British Isles and on the continent.

As airlines cut costs and better manage their inventories, one thing doesn’t change, Julin said: “There is no reduction in detail and concern over quality work.”

Aviation repair rules are strict and rigorously documented. “You don’t have anyone even suggesting that you can have some systems operating at half-optimum or below required levels,” he said.


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