Wings – July 15, 2015
There comes a time in the development of any successful operation where future opportunities may be curtailed by the blueprints of the past – when a corporate brand just doesn’t accurately depict the vast diversity of a growing product offering or properly illustrate the company’s potential.
This being the case, the only logical thing for that company to do is undertake a redefining moment – a transformation that clearly defines the new corporate structure, a pathway to future growth and prosperity. It’s one of the main reasons savvy corporate marketing specialists are paid handsomely to help growing businesses understand and identify what they are and carefully guide them through the, at times, uncomfortable rebranding process.
Steve Davey, executive vice president and COO of Levaero Aviation, can certainly identify with this process. Davey’s company Pilatus Centre Canada – which he co-owns with president/CEO Rob Arnone – has recently been transformed into Levaero Aviation, bringing together growing aviation products and services.
Founded in 1997, Thunder Bay, Ont.-based Pilatus Centre Canada established itself as one the country’s iconic aerospace companies. Specializing in the servicing and refurbishing of the versatile PC-12 aircraft, the company was purchased by Arnone and Davey nine years ago. They have worked tirelessly to develop the business into the multi-dimensional offering it is today. A rebrand was an obvious next step.
Levaero Aviation – the name has French and Latin influences meaning to “rise and lift up” – is now the largest maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in northern Ontario. With additional sales offices in Toronto and a service centre in Kelowna, B.C., the company provides national support to an extensive support base to the more than 70 operators of PC-12 aircraft across Canada, operating close to 100 aircraft.
Levaero Aviation employs nearly 100 people across the country, and has strong ties with Thunder Bay’s Confederation College. Many of the company’s employees have graduated from the college and it remains an important pipeline for graduates of all aviation disciplines.
Specializing in repair services for more than two decades, Levaero Aviation customers have grown accustomed to top-notch customer service and client experiences under the Pilatus Centre Canada name. Levaero Aviation also includes Toronto-based charter and aircraft management firm Private Air and Aerigo Solutions. The company offers clients a wide variety of services including MRO/aircraft refurbishing and completion, aircraft management, sales and charters, training, financing/leasing brokerage, aircraft appraisal and much more. It’s a comprehensive array of aviation services, that wasn’t properly conveyed with its old corporate identity.
Of course while this indeed may be the case, Davey notes that taking the plunge to change an iconic Canadian brand was anything but easy. “When we were first taking about the concept of a rebrand, you almost take it as a personal insult,” Davey said. “You had to ask, ‘Why would we do that, we are doing a good job. Why do you want to fix something that is not broken?’ But when you sit down and take some input from people on the outside, the agencies we worked with and our customers, you come to the conclusion that, yes, we are doing the right thing. It does make sense. This is the logical next step for us, because we are already doing more things than we were doing before. This clearly identifies the new direction we are going in.”
Like Davey, Arnone had his own reservations about the change, which took roughly 18 months to complete. But the new direction more aptly captures the spirit and future prospects of the growing organization – and change, though often scary a times, is necessary. The process has turned out to be quite a “rush” according to Arnone.
“It’s an exhilaration when you develop growth. That’s what we did this for,” he said. “We love the challenge, we love being able to fulfill our goals and this is just one of them. In terms of Pilatus Centre Canada, that has been a stand-alone for us and the PC-12 is what it is – a great product and this element of our business will continue to prosper. The advent of the jet (the new PC-24 which had its first flight on May 11) is another growth opportunity. If you look at it from a divisional standpoint, it will still remain as a core piece of our business while operating as a key flag of Levaero for sure. But it’s the other products – dealing with other aircraft on the maintenance and refurbishing side, the acquisitions and sales side – these are areas of development that we are going to see a lot more of.”
The successful transformation to Levaero Aviation from Pilatus Centre Canada would not have been possible without the development of a solid foundation within the aviation community – one based on excellent customer service and a varied product offering, notes Stan Kuliavas, vice-president of sales and business development. The company’s commitment to service excellence on the versatile PC-12 aircraft has helped ensure a smooth transition in other areas of the business was possible.
“Without the foundation of the past 20 years, we couldn’t go into the direction that we wanted to go into moving forward,” Kuliavas said. “Now, we can take those extra pieces in various areas like aircraft acquisition and sales, aircraft maintenance, special mission projects, unique maintenance, and the PC-12 Life Extension Program, which no one else in the world does. It’s a unique set of expertise that our engineers in Thunder Bay have – they do things that no one else in the world does.”
The development of the PC-24 will provide future growth opportunities for Levaero Aviation, as will the continued implementation of avionics, complicated refurbishments and the development of new STC’s for the PC-12. A recent example of the company’s prowess in STC development was the FAA STC it received on May 14 in association with Northeast Engineering & Development for the PC-12 Enhanced Vision System. It is one of a growing number of STC’s that Levaero has developed in the past few months, an area Davey is keen to grow.
Continuing the strong focus on the PC-12 Life Extension Program (LEP) is another key focus. The two-part life extension program extends the hourly life of an aircraft more than two-and-a-half times its original 20,000 hours. The first part of the original design life of the PC-12 is 20,000 hours or 27,000 landings. It is the first major tear-down inspection in the life of these aircraft, and engineers are looking for corrosion and wear and tear to doors and frames, flight control systems, and wiring, among other issues. If required, the engine and prop will be sent to approved maintenance organizations for repair or overhaul.
“We remove the interior, floors, windows, landing gear, engine, wings, tail and flight controls,” Davey said. “After cleaning out the debris and corrosion protection materials, we spend at least four weeks carrying out in-depth visual and NDT (nondestructive testing) inspections.”
The second part of the inspection is due at 25,000 hours or 30,000 landings. LEP2 consists of supplemental structural inspections as defined in the PC-12 maintenance manual. These inspections are repeated at various intervals until the aircraft reaches retirement at 50,000 hours or 60,000 landings. With the LEP program, older aircraft feel like new again.
“This certainly adds value to our whole operation,” Davey said. “The process removes 20,000 hours of wear and tear, and when the plane comes out, it is tight, it flies like new.”
Innovation in maintenance coupled with an educated, balanced and responsible assessment of future growth opportunities is bound to help Levaero Aviation in terms of its future development, but as Davey notes, growth is not without its challenges. For example, space limitations at the Thunder Bay site is an issue, but the company is reticent to spend impulsively if it doesn’t have to.
“In Thunder Bay, we have a space limitation with our existing facility but at the same time, I suppose we could just go spend a couple of million and build another hangar,” he said. “But we have seen so many people do that over the years and we are not ready for it. We are very cautious about our growth.”
Finding top talent and keeping the ones Levaero Aviation has is also a challenge. “There are fewer and fewer people getting in to the trade, all trades for that matter, and obviously, aircraft maintenance is critical to our business,” Davey said. “We do have plenty of support and Confederation College provides most of our maintenance staff. We really want to see that program succeed.”
Another plus for Levaero is the versatility and durability of the product it sells and maintains. The PC-12 is a proven winner in the Canadian environment, able to take on a variety of missions for a wide array of operators working in often challenging conditions. It is essentially unaffected by market fluctuations, Davey said. “That airplane does well when the market is doing poorly and it does well when the market is strong. We have seen that over the years when cycles change. The PC-12 often thrives in a bad economy because it is such an efficient airplane”
With its rebranding now firmly in place, what does the future hold for Levaero Aviation? And how has the new look been received? In Arnone’s words, the future is looking very bright – and customers and employees couldn’t be happier.
“The response has been very positive, from both employees and customers,” Arnone said. “They understand the dynamics for the change, they like the name and understand where we are headed. Mergers and acquisitions is one area where we have identified as a growth plan and we are actively in discussions to enhance our business in a number of areas. It is a very exciting time for Levaero Aviation”