LINCOLN, NE - Lincoln Airport, formerly Lincoln Municipal, is located some four miles from Lincoln’s central business district. The largest tenant on the field, family-owned aircraft maintenance and refurbishment company Duncan Aviation, provides nose-to-tail aircraft MRO (maintenance, repair, and overhaul) service, working on everything from landing-gear to avionics to exterior aircraft painting.
Duncan president Aaron Hilkemann, who joined the company in 1996 with no aviation experience, says because he didn’t have the industry technical knowledge at first, he has always focused on the employees, and how he can support them. “Give employees a good facility to work in, good training, and good equipment ... that ultimately has a significant impact on the customer,” he says.
The company employs some 1,850, and apart from the Lincoln operation, Duncan operates facilities in Battle Creek, MI (BTL) and Provo, UT (PVU). The company also maintains avionics and engine satellite repair stations across the country.
Hilkemann relates that business is doing well currently, and the company has seen a positive trend in terms of customer spending. From a customer service standpoint, Duncan has been entrenched in the social media arena utilizing websites such as Facebook and Twitter as an effective and efficient way to distribute information, technical or otherwise, to it’s Web-savvy client base.
Says Hilkemann, “Our goal is to do as many things on that large inspection: interior, refurbishment, avionics, repair … as much of the things that come up on that aircraft — we’d like to try to do as many things on site as we can.
“That eliminates the risk of a customer having a late delivery because we’re waiting for someone else to provide us with those parts.
“We really want to be a full-capability shop so that we can control whatever comes up and provide the customer with whatever needs they may have.” This ultimately helps the company control the delivery date, adds Hilkemann.
A specific example of Duncan’s service capabilities include work with the company’s water jet cutter. Duncan utilizes the machine to fabricate instrument panels for cockpits when it does Proline 21 installations, for example. “As we used it and continued to see the capabilities, there’s been times with older aircraft where a part took three to six months for a customer to get — we’ve had manufacturers provide us with drawings so we can fabricate those parts,” says Hilkemann.
“It’s been a very multifunctional tool for us; it gives us some more capability.”
“We have seen customers during the recession significantly reduce their spending for discretionary items, such as paint and interior … that occurred during ’09 and the first half of 2010,” relates Hilkemann. “We started to see in the second half of 2010, the beginning of some additional spending for discretionary items; that has continued to grow in 2011.
“So customers who put off spending are now starting to commit to aircraft improvements, such as painting, interior refurbishment, and as well as some discretionary items for avionics, or Wi-Fi in the cabin.”
The industry saw a significant reduction in flying hours from the fall of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009, and that impacted customers, and therefore impacted the Duncan facility, explains Hilkemann.
“To react to that, we implemented a salary freeze … we ended up doing a salary reduction, and in March of 2009, we reduced our workforce by some 300 employees,” he says. That was the first time in Duncan’s history that the company has reduced its workforce.
On any given day in Lincoln, Duncan typically has 55 aircraft on site on average, and at the Battle Creek facility, there are some 35 aircraft on site every day. Both facilities primarily work on jets; 95 percent of the company’s market is jet aircraft.
On the avionics, component, and accessory side of the business, turboprops have a much higher percentage of the market.