NATA Announces Industry Excellence Awards Recipients
Richard Craver/Winston-Salem Journal
North State Aviation LLC celebrated its fourth anniversary Thursday, opening the event by showing the TV clip from the end of the U.S. hockey team’s semifinal victory over the Soviet Union.
The win came during the 1980 Olympics at the height of the Cold War. It’s the one in which announcer Al Michaels gave his famous call of “Do you believe in miracles? … Yes!”
Charlie Creech, the company’s president, told his workforce of 383 and other members of the audience, which included civic and elected, why he chose the clip.
“That (U.S. hockey) team certainly was underdogs,” Creech said. “They had a tremendous support group with clear direction. They had a commitment to each other to make things happen.”
Creech said the moral of the story – to him – is that “they wanted to finish.”
“I like to believe we have many of the same qualities here. I can guarantee you one thing. We have an owner and a head coach (Al Bodford) that is second to none.
“He gave us a cause, he clearly defined where we needed to be. He nurtured us through tough times and when it was time for us to step on the ice, he stepped out of the way. He taught us that we have to consistently finish.”
The top executives at North State Aviation LLC have strived to embrace their maintenance heritage, particularly Piedmont Airlines, while distancing themselves from the now-defunct Pace Airlines, whose production space they occupy at Smith Reynolds Airport.
The main element of the North State celebration was reaching the 400 threshold in aircraft renovation projects, including more than 300 with its main customer, United Airlines. The main project to date has been installing a satellite-based system on 160 of United's Boeing 737-700, 800 and 900 series aircraft.
Gaining United’s confidence was pivotal to North State’s existence.
Pace had a similar maintenance contract with Continental Airlines until shortly before collapsing in September 2009, costing 423 employees their jobs, including about 300 locally.
Creech and Russell Kota, North State’s vice president of maintenance, were members of Pace’s management team when it was owned by the estate of Bob Brooks, chairman of Hooters of America Inc.
They were replaced when William Rodgers Sr. bought the company from the Brooks estate in May 2009.
North State didn’t directly emerge like a phoenix from Pace’s ashes. But the Pace experience left airport and civic officials leery of putting faith that soon into another maintenance company.
Creech joked that in the first conversation he had with Smith Reynolds officials, including executive director Mark Davidson, they asked if North State intended to pay or not pay their rent.
“When we said ‘pay rent,’ things moved forward,” Creech said.
The company pledged in January 2011 it would have at least 308 employees within four years when it was made eligible for $300,000 in performance-based state incentives. It had 28 employees at that time and occupied 80,000 square feet on a monthly basis.
As North State demonstrated its ability to provide quality renovation work to United, the airline expanded its contract to where it represents six production lines.
“They have earned those lines through providing quality work at an effective cost,” said Manny Naeem, United’s vice president for technical planning, supply chain and outsourcing maintenance.
Creech said North State’s workforce consists of 365 full and 18 part-time employees, of which more than 100 are military veterans. He said 25 of the 28 employees at startup remain with the company.
“We went from a payroll of $91,000 to $14 million now,” Creech said. “We occupy more than 300,000 square feet and pay more than $1.4 million in annual rent and utilities. We’re among the top-50 employers in Forsyth.”
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., praised North State as an example of a company recognizing an opportunity and seizing it through hard work, innovation and seeking assistance in terms of skill training for good-paying jobs.
Davidson said the airport’s master plan is to add another hanger, in part to give North State more expansion space. He said North State’s success has contributed to the airport commission being able to afford the on-going construction of Runway 4-22.
“The commission now has the local match required for the $2.6 million dollar project,” Davidson said.
“Four years ago, the commission could not have not made the financial commitment to the state Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration due to the unforeseen future and lack of cash on hand.
“Now, we are competing for FAA discretionary funds for other infrastructure projects, which will have a positive impact on all our tenants and users.”
Fran Daniel/Winston-Salem Journal
Potentially dangerous traffic with two runways, military and emergency relief, millions in infrastructure investments and designation as a national asset were among the reasons cited by officials in their appeal to keep Smith Reynolds Airport’s tower open.
Officials made Wednesday’s deadline to appeal the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to close the air traffic control tower because of budget cuts from the federal sequester.
“It’s important to us that we do everything we can to make sure that the tower remains in operation at Smith Reynolds, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Thomas McKim, the chairman of the Airport Commission of Forsyth County.
The airport commission made its case for the tower to remain open in a seven-page letter signed by McKim and Airport Director Mark Davidson to the FAA.
Airport officials focused on a designation by the FAA last May that listed Smith Reynolds as one of the top general aviation airports in the country in a report titled “General Aviation Airports: A National Asset.”
Airport officials said the closing of the Smith Reynolds tower will negatively affect “the national interest in that it will impair the airport’s ability to serve its role as a national airport.”
They gave several other reasons that the airport should have a tower, including potentially challenging and dangerous traffic operations because of two runways. They cited military and emergency relief activity at the airport, and substantial investment by the FAA, including millions of dollars for a runway safety area project.
The FAA plans to close more than 170 contract towers throughout the country as part of its plans to reduce costs by about $600 million for the remainder of 2013. The airport towers are scheduled to close April 7. The agency will finalize its closings list by Monday.
Smith Reynolds’ tower is operated by five contract employees who would lose their jobs if it closes.
McKim said there should be proportionate reductions across the board in all programs for agencies that are being asked to reduce expenditures as part of the sequester process.
“What the FAA is doing is they are concentrating 75 percent of their reduction in just this contract tower program,” he said. “It seems that rather than squeezing a little bit of savings incrementally out of a lot of different places, they are taking a meat cleaver to a very important program that provides service to a lot of people at a lot of airports all over the country, with Smith Reynolds being one of them.”
Late Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced an amendment to the Senate Continuing Resolution aimed at protecting the contract tower program.
“I am strongly opposed to the FAA’s plan to target air traffic control towers across the country, including the towers included in the Contract Tower Program,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan, a sponsor of the amendment.
The Airport Commission of Forsyth County’s appeal has 14 letters of support, including statements from Mayor Allen Joines, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, the Piedmont Triad Partnership, Piedmont Flight Training, Rockingham County Airport Authority, pilots and the manager of the tower at Smith Reynolds.“Closing the tower at Smith Reynolds could jeopardize aviation safety and efficiency and will definitely have a negative economic impact because of its effect on our two large growing aircraft maintenance companies in Winston-Salem,” Joines said in his letter.
The landing of a multiyear maintenance contract with United Airlines is giving new air to NS Aviation LLC's ambitious growth plans.
NS Aviation said Thursday that it expects to add at least 40 full-time employees by year's end to work on the United business, bolstering its workforce at Smith Reynolds Airport to about 150.
NS Aviation does business as North State Aviation. It operates on a monthly lease for 80,000 square feet, including 50,000 in hangar space, at 4001 N. Liberty St.
The company is already providing two lines of maintenance and retrofit work on United's Boeing 737-900 fleet, with each line having about 45 to 50 dedicated employees. The new contract could eventually double the number of lines NS Aviation dedicates to United maintenance and retrofitting work.
The company said it will need additional hangar and mechanic shop space to handle the expanded contract, offering a revenue boost to the airport.
NS Aviation had 31 employees when it announced in January 2011, with Gov. Bev Perdue's assistance, that it would have 308 employees within four years as part of the expansion.
The company pledged the jobs will pay an average wage of $42,072 — $80 more than the average in Forsyth County. It would spend nearly $1.3 million on capital investments.
In return, the state made the company eligible for a $300,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund. It will also benefit from a $500,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation to the Airport Commission of Forsyth County for airport infrastructure improvements.
When NS Aviation made its expansion announcement, management acknowledged that gaining confidence in their business operations and finances will be crucial to attracting customers, employees and community support.
Since then, NS Aviation has kept a low profile while picking up business from about a dozen companies that include Miami Air and Arik Air.
"Our growth has been sparked by the significant increase we've experienced in our customer base," said Charlie Creech, president of North State.
He said the United contract "now ensures our facility will have a high volume of work for the upcoming years."
Tom Chappell, NS Aviation's vice president of business development, said the United contract is the result of "several months of cultivating relationships."
"We feel that our efforts have yielded the potential for ongoing success for us and many others in the aviation community."
Mark Davidson, director of Smith Reynolds Airport, said he is "elated" that NS Aviation was able to land a major contract. He said the airport commission is negotiating with NS Aviation for a longer-term lease in part because of the United contract.
"They had developed a niche providing maintenance on large aircraft for charter airlines to stay operational," he said.
"With this contract, they will have a regular stream of business and revenue."
Gayle Anderson, chief executive and president of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, said she recognized it would take time for NS Aviation to expand once it laid the groundwork for its operations.
"It's good news for the community that its work is paying off," Anderson said.
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Triad Today - Smith Reynolds Airport (Original Broadcast August 4, 2012)