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Friday, August 1, 2008

Firms Focus on Worldwide MD Market

James T. McKenna

There are about 2,000 MD Helicopters in service around the world, and Phoenix Heliparts and its parent company aim to be the "go-to" vendor to complete, refurbish and support them.

"The helicopters are getting older. They need refinement. They need repairs more. They need all kinds of work," said Don Nichols, president of Heli-Mart, which bought an 80-percent stake in Mesa, Ariz.-based Phoenix Heliparts in Sept. 2007. "That’s the type of customer we’re really are trying to work with."

Phoenix Heliparts, whose home is Mesa’s Falcon Field where MD resides, specializes in supporting the MD product line, with services ranging from minor line maintenance to heavy repair and overhaul and field support, as well as completions and modifications. "A lot of repair stations don’t send their mechanics out in the filed to support the client’s aircraft at the client’s facility," said Darin Cannon, the company’s vice president of operations. He has been working on MD aircraft since 1982.

Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Heli-Mart has provided logistics support for MD aircraft and their predecessors since the mid-1970s. In 2006, it bought the Phoenix, Ariz. Police Dept nine MD-520Ns to bolster its stock of spare parts and engines. That was followed by its acquisition of Phoenix Heliparts. Having spent the better part of a year fine-tuning the Mesa unit’s operation, Nichols and Cannon, along with Phoenix Heliparts President Dave Langenhuizen and its general manager, Tina Cannon, are preparing to take the company to the next level. (Langenhuizen previously had served as chief operating officer of MD Helicopters. Tina, Darin’s wife, also has long worked in supporting MD aircraft.)

"We are developing a ‘total solution’ concept," Nichols said. Under that concept, Phoenix Heliparts offers aftermarket customer service for MD products and Heli-Mart taps its 30-plus years of experience in building a customer base for its parts logistics support. Heli-Mart also owns California Aero Components, which rebuilds and overhauls helicopter components. California Aero is based at Costa Mesa’s John Wayne Airport.

"Through the three companies, we can really offer almost everything to a customer," Nichols said. "That ‘total solution’ concept is really catching on. It means better costs for the customer, less down time."

Tina Cannon highlighted what she said are the unique aspects of Phoenix Heliparts. "We are unlike other repair stations in the field," she said. "Right after Heli-Expo in February, we added the MD-900 and -902 to our repair station along with the [Pratt & Whitney Canada] PW200, so we can service all of the MD models. We do composites, avionics, interiors. We have in-house engineering. We do completions work."

The company is not an MD-authorized completions or service center, Darin said, but "we probably have more experience than some MD services centers out there."

Both Cannons emphasized that Phoenix Heliparts doesn’t pre-package completions. "We sit down with our client to figure out what his needs are and how we can meet them," Tina said. "He works with our engineering department. We don’t have an off-the-shelf completions package."

The approach has won over some customers. "Two things that truly impressed me with Phoenix Heliparts were how well they communicated with us about every stage of the completion and the extensive level of knowledge they possess about the helicopters on which they work," said Casey Riemer, general manager and vice president of Jack Harter Helicopters. That Lihue, Hawaii-based tour operator recently had MD deliver its new MD-500E to Phoenix Heliparts for completion. "The quality of workmanship on the avionics package and other installed options is first rate. MD Helicopters manufactured a great new helicopter and Phoenix Heliparts added the icing to the cake."

The company also draws on its staff’s operational experience with MD products to develop improvements and performance enhancements to it.

"A lot of our background comes from operational experience," Darin said. "We worked for the operator. We were the ones that had to make sure the aircraft was ready in the morning. I think a lot of maintenance centers lose sight of what that means with respect to the customer’s requirements."

An example of an improvement derived from that experience is an inspection panel Phoenix Heliparts is developing to help the mechanic who has to replace the front PTO seal on an MD-500. Currently, Darin said, that requires removing the engine. The company aims to develop a removable panel on the front side to allow access to that seal. He figures that would save a minimum of 20 labor hours on the job, and would also give a mechanic a different angle from which to inspect the engine.

Phoenix Heliparts is developing a number of performance-enhancement and other kits for MD products that it wants to field by or at the next Heli-Expo.

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