Douglas has been a fixture on the GSE circuit, albeit under many different owners, for more than 50 years. The company began life from humble origins in 1947 in the picturesque English Cotswolds, and has since become one of the world's leading suppliers of aviation tow tractors (primarily the Tugmaster range) and other ground support vehicles.
But it was perhaps in 1989 that Douglas really sealed its place as a major industry player with the introduction of what was then considered controversial and newfangled technology: handling tractors that lifted and locked on to an aircraft's nose wheel for pushback and towing rather than relying on the use of a separately fitted towbar.
Other manufacturers from the early 1970s onwards, principally in France and Germany, had explored the possibility of such technology, but Douglas is widely credited as being the first manufacturer to deliver a relatively affordable towbarless solution.
Today, the wide range of Douglas-Kalmar towbarless tractors can handle aircraft up to the largest fully laden B747. Worldwide, Douglas has sold more than 400 units and claims a market share approaching 55 to 60 percent in the field.
In addition to its commercial aviation GSE, Douglas also manufactures yard shunting tractors for the distribution industry and Ro-Ro/Terminal tractors for seaport use, as well as the Mu-Meter runway friction measuring equipment. The final piece in the production puzzle is an important military division that manufactures a range of GSE from the EN Handler for military aircraft to a series of Mobilisers that convert standard ISO containers into self-contained towable trailers.
Aviation products may now represent 70percent of the Douglas business, but the company's market diversity has certainly helped it through what has been such a rough year for so many. "We were probably not as hard hit as others," explains Doane. "We had a full order book through to last February with no cancellations. But we certainly felt the effect after that."
Of course, Aquarius has not stepped in to see Douglas stand still and expects growth in all of its new acquisition's business segments. Doane stresses that the GSE product line, in particular, remains crucial, despite current industry difficulties.
"Financially and strategically, the GSE product line is very important to the overall business and in recent years has been a major contributor to Douglas," he explains. "The industry may have been in the doldrums but it will come back and we will be positioned to take advantage of the upturn."
The plan is for Aquarius to remain very much in the background, with the one major change being the appointment of Denson's General Manager, Lee Brewis, as Managing Director of Douglas. Brewis has more than 20 years of experience in the GSE business, including time spent with the Australian Air Force, and is considered well equipped to move the company forward.
"Really, it is very much business as usual, although we can now be much more aggressive in developing and marketing new products and seeking new markets," says Doane. Certainly, Aquarius's location in Hong Kong and knowledge of the region suggests that Mainland China, in particular, could become a lucrative market for Douglas in the future.
"Above all, we will continue to grow on the strong foundations we have in place, albeit with the added stability of being part of a large and financially strong group," adds Doane.
Importantly, customer reaction to date appears positive - airlines and handlers like stable suppliers, now more than ever - a reaction that is attributed to the perceived staying power of Douglas's new owners.
"We have been owned by several groups in the public sector over the last 14 years and customers now see our return to the private sector as bringing increased stability to our business," suggests Doane.
For now, the transition period during which Aquarius and Douglas will move from a sales and marketing relationship to a much more integral partnership will involve an inevitable getting to know you period. The priority is to consolidate the business and market share, which is likely to involve a full review of the overall manufacturing strategy.