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Monday, March 1, 2004

Vector Aerospace Cleans House

- James Careless

In response to a revolt by majority shareholders Northstar Aerospace and I.M.P. Group, Toronto-based maintenance provider Vector Aerospace has fired its top managers. Gone are chief executive officer Mark Dobbin, chief operating officer Paul Conway, and chief financial officer Max Parsons, all of whom were terminated by Vector's board on November 27, 2003. In turn, the board itself was replaced the very next day by a new slate of seven directors, including the new president and CEO Colin D. Watson. Previous to assuming command at Vector, Watson served as president and CEO at Spar Aerospace.

"In very simple terms, the investors were unhappy with top management's results," Watson told Aviation Maintenance. "Vector had gone public in 1998 at $8 [Canadian] a share. By last year, it was trading for less than $1.80."


First King Air Celebrates 40th

A private group is restoring the first Beech King Air, LJ-1, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the popular twin turboprop. The work is being done by a team of technicians at The Hangar in Batesville, Mississippi, led by project manager Alex Major.

King Air LJ-1 first took to the skies on January 20, 1964, during two test flights flown by test pilot J.D. Webber. Following certification, Olive Ann Beech, wife of company founder Walter Beech, used LJ-1 for transportation.

A number of companies have donated materials to the restoration, including PPG Industries (new windshields), Hartzell (new propellers and spinners), Engineered Fabrics (fuel cells), Goodrich (wheels, brakes, engine inlet, and wing deice boots), CAMP Systems (maintenance tracking), Gables Engineering (avionics control heads), and Raytheon Aircraft (maintenance publications). The foundation is seeking donations from vendors that built items for the first King Airs, and thus far, said Major, no vendor has refused to participate in the restoration.

Raytheon Aircraft has built more than 6,000 King Airs during the past 40 years. Early models sold for about $300,000. Today's comparable model, the C90B, sells for more than ten times that much.

To mark the occasion and show off the restored LJ-1, the foundation plans to fly the King Air around the world, with celebrity pilots like Morgan Freeman and others at the controls. The foundation plans to raffle seats on the celebrity flights to raise money for the restoration and for the 45-day world flight. Donations for the restoration are also being accepted.

For more information, see www.kingairfoundation.org or call Alex Major at 662-627-7228.



SR Technics To Buy FLS Aerospace

SR Technics, backed by two investment firms, emerged as the successful bidder for FLS Industries's FLS Aerospace division. Star Capital and 3i are paying 350 million Danish kroner (about US$60 million), plus taking on pension costs and restructuring liabilities. The purchase is expected to be completed by mid-April.

FLS has undergone some changes recently, including shuttering of heavy maintenance bases in the U.K. due to continuing losses. The sale of FLS Aerospace reflects the fact that the division was not a core business of FLS Industries, said FLS spokeswoman Mary Mannion. "While our parent company have put in a good effort and stuck with it through a lot of loss making," she said, "in the last few years they have realized that it is not a core business."

The combining of SR Technics and FLS Aerospace "will be a good opportunity," she added. "SR Technics will expand with our Boeing capability." And FLS's engine expertise will also benefit the new company and broaden its focus.

After the acquisition is complete, SR Technics will generate annual revenues of more than $1 billion.



IAM Loses 3rd Party Mx Ruling

In a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), the court responded to a dispute between the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and US Airways. More than a year ago, the airline had appealed a federal injunction that restricted US Airways's ability to send aircraft to third-party maintenance facilities for heavy maintenance work.

The recent ruling calls for US Airways and the IAM union to arbitrate the dispute. The Court held that "the dispute is a minor one" under the Railroad Labor Act, "and therefore the district court lacked jurisdiction to issue the preliminary injunction."

"The Court's decision," according to a US Airways statement, "validates the company's consistent legal opinion that this issue is a minor contract dispute under the Railway Labor Act that must be resolved through arbitration between US Airways and the International Association of Machinists. We are prepared to quickly arbitrate this matter as our collective focus must be to meet the travel plans of our customers without interruption."

In a letter to its membership issued last January, the IAM commented on the dispute and the oral arguments held before the three judges from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals: "Our position remains simple and unchanged. This work must be performed by IAM members employed by US Airways in the carrier's maintenance facilities, not in a cave in Alabama."

There are heavy aircraft maintenance facilities based in Alabama. One such is Pemco World Air Services in Dothan. Mechanics at Pemco World Air Services are represented by the IAM, Local 1632. "We enjoy a very good relationship," said a Pemco spokeswoman. "We don't work in caves here."

Asked about the "cave" reference, IAM spokesman Joe Tiberi explained that the IAM is concerned about maintenance done at non-union or non-U.S. facilities, "because union workers have additional layers of protection where they can question questionable maintenance practices without fear of being fired. It's a major difference."

The IAM is still reviewing options in response to the lifting of the injunction and the call to return to the arbitration table. "The decision could be appealed to the full circuit, or we could go to arbitration," he said. "We still believe the work should be done in-house by IAM members."

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