February 1, 1998

Local aviation firms’ sales fly into overseas markets

In Japan, police patrol the country by helicopter. In Australia, doctors reach patients in turbo prop aircraft. And in South America, workers beat the traffic by taking to the skies.

As the use of helicopters and general aviation aircraft expands globally, two local aviation companies have tapped into overseas opportunities.

The growth of offshore oil, logging and construction industries in Asia, for example, has increased the helicopter’s role there, says Keith Steiner, marketing director of Boulder-based Air Comm Corp., a company that makes heating and air-condit ioning kits for helicopter cabins.”With the economic development in Asia and South America the helicopter has become a tool,” Steiner says. “It is no longer a novelty or luxury.”

At Boulder Municipal Airport, Air Comm’s 20 employees put together cabin heating and cooling kits for installation in helicopters. The firm was founded in 1987 and has 20 employees. Steiner declined to disclose revenue figures.

Air Comm’s international break came in 1993 when Bell Helicopter awarded it a military contract to supply 150 systems for the U.S. Army’s TH-67 Creek training helicopter. Bell’s manufacturing facilities are in Montreal.

This connection with Bell, a worldwide helicopter supplier, opened global doors. Now 20 percent of Air Comm’s business is international.

For the past three years, Air Comm has supplied air-conditioning systems to Bell Helicopter-Asia in Singapore, which imports the helicopter shell from Bell-Montreal.

“It is often less expensive for helicopters to leave the production line without everything installed,” Steiner says.

In 1994, Punj Lloyd of India asked for an air-conditioning kit for the Bell 206L4. And Mitsui-Tokyo, a service center for the Bell 412, buys air-conditioning spare parts from Air Comm. Mitsui maintains the helicopters for the Japanese police and fire departments, which serve the country’s 47 prefectures, or regions.

According to Steiner, Air Comm’s heating system has been critical to the company’s success.

Air flowing into the turbine engine from outside gets compressed and heats to around 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the air is removed from the engine through a stainless steel plumbing line and brought into the cabin where it mixes with recirculated cabin air.

Air Comm’s design consists of a series of miniature ejector assemblies located behind cabin side panels, in the cockpit, and inside windshield diffusers. These assemblies eject warm air where it is needed without the use of blowers and air distribution ducting.

“Many operators in Canada fly in -30 to -40 degrees F., and a working heater is critical to the success of the mission,” Steiner notes.

Pilatus Business Aircraft in Broomfield supplies the PC-12 airplane to customers in North and South America.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Switzerland-based Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., Pilatus was formed in 1996 when the Swiss company wanted a U.S. headquarters to market its PC-12. The company employs 29, and projects its 1997 revenues to be more than $50 million to $75 million.

A single-engine, turbo prop aircraft, the PC-12 is partially manufactured in Switzerland and flown to Jefferson County Airport where it is cleared through U.S. Customs.

Pilatus Business Aircraft completes the interior portion of the plane and maintains a parts inventory.

International sales include Canada, Mexico, Central and South America.

Last August, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that general aviation single-engine aircraft could be eligible to operate for hire for both cargo and passengers under instrument conditions.

“The PC-12 was designed as a utilitarian airplane,” notes Pat Finnoff, marketing director at Pilatus Business Aircraft.

But its economical features make it attractive to overseas buyers, Finnoff says.

Each of the PC-12’s five designs contain an oversized cargo door. It seats up to nine, and is pressurized so it can operate at altitudes above adverse weather conditions.

In developing countries it is often cheaper to build a runway than a road, Finnoff says. The PC-12 can land on a 2,300-foot runway. The turbo prop function allows the aircraft to lift itself up quickly, and a single engine uses less fuel, Finnoff adds.

Air Comm offers free training seminars when customers need help, like the Lider Taxi Aereo company in Brazil. Last September, workers traveled to Brazil to teach about maintenance on a fleet of Bell 407 helicopters.

“When we realized that the Lider mechanics were not properly trained or equipped to manage the system correctly, we decided from a practical and customer service standpoint to teach them how to do it,” Steiner says.

The service pays for itself in customer loyalty, he adds.

In Japan, police patrol the country by helicopter. In Australia, doctors reach patients in turbo prop aircraft. And in South America, workers beat the traffic by taking to the skies.

As the use of helicopters and general aviation aircraft expands globally, two local aviation companies have tapped into overseas opportunities.

The growth of offshore oil, logging and construction industries in Asia, for example, has increased the helicopter’s role there, says Keith Steiner, marketing director of Boulder-based Air Comm Corp., a company that makes heating and air-condit ioning kits for helicopter cabins.”With…

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