How To ‘Ramp Up’ New Ramp Operations

Matheson Flight Extenders has long specialized in ground support for the USPS, but is branching out into the commercial sector.


In 1968, Matheson bought another unusual company with Flight Extenders Inc., a company specializing in aircraft tip tanks. You read that right. A flight extender is a fuel tank typically added to the wing tip of general aviation aircraft.

It wasn’t until 1996, through various reorganizations, that Flight Extenders started taking on its current form by providing terminal handling and mail sort operations for the USPS in Phoenix, AZ. A year later, Flight Extenders expanded in Phoenix to provide aircraft ground support operations for the USPS by managing its local CNET operations.

Finally, in 2001 came the big change for Flight Extenders. The USPS awarded Flight Extenders with a terminal handling services contract for 13 airport locations, primarily across the Western United States.

“By this time we’d worked for the USPS since 1964,” O’Donnell adds, “Now here we were at or near these airports and we had a chance to do more.”

In 2003, Flight Extenders became the only private contractor to FedEx to provide aircraft ground support services in Billings, MT. Also that year, its Seattle, WA, operation began providing aircraft support to Northern Air Cargo. By 2004, Alaska Airlines contracted with Flight Extenders to provide terminal handling services also at Seattle.

Between 2004 and 2006, Flight Extenders acquired more contracts with Airborne Express, DHL and UPS for ground support services and terminal handling services in new cities in the Western United States, as well as Tucson, AZ, to further support the USPS.

THE POST OFFICE?

Set aside the Post Office jokes we’ve all heard. Matheson says doing business with the USPS is a very serious matter.

The USPS constantly measures and grades its business partners on a host of service quality metrics, which, in its own words, “must be reliable and convenient, and must improve continuously.”

“The USPS is a very professional and high-standards partner,” O’Donnell adds. “At a minimum, the USPS expects a performance level of 98.5 percent. We deliver a 99.5 percent level.”

O’Donnell outlined some of those performance measurements for us. Trust us: There are many. But essentially it all means that the mail moves with very little room for mistakes or misunderstandings.

“They’re the kind of customer that you can really learn from,” O’Donnell adds. “Thanks to the USPS business, we’ve really built hyper-efficient systems and trained our people accordingly to deliver great customer service.”

It’s that commitment to quality that helped the company win its first international contract with South Korea’s Asiana Airlines Inc. last year to offer ground handling services to three weekly 747-400 cargo flights at Flight Extenders Portland, OR, facility.

“Asiana is very conscious of its cargo,” O’Donnell says. “We went through a very rigorous process to win the business, and I know that our consistent high marks for service to the USPS is what they liked about us.”

Tagart described what the company did to make sure this new operation got off the ground without a hitch.

“The local manager had a lot of experience with 747 cargo, but not so much with a start-up operation,” Tagart says. “There are a lot of things to consider, and we figure that we have about 175 years worth of collective cargo and ramp experience throughout the company.”

So the company had the Seattle manager – experienced in commercial carriers – and the Bradley, CT, manager – experienced in cargo – and the Salt Lake City, UT, manager – experienced in GSE – head to Portland to prep two weeks before the start date.

By the way, we can’t write this feature without mentioning that Bradley manager. Kenneth DeVolpi got the ball rolling on our coverage – despite the fact that when we first spoke to him he was literally on his way to the emergency room. Later, we spoke to him as he recuperated on the couch at his parent’s home in Dallas, TX.

“We’re the little guy that your magazine started out to serve,” he told us. “We’re trying our best to grow Flight Extenders even though we’re going up against the big guys whose names people know more than ours right now.”

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