In 2004, Aero Union of Chico was literally scrambling for its life, having been knocked flat by the national government's cancellation of its firefighting air tanker contracts because of aircraft safety concerns.
Aero Union was only one of several companies to find itself without a contract, but it became the first in the nation with a new contract a few months later.
However, there was a potent message about vulnerability to President and CEO Terry Unsworth. In the months of uncertainty until its contract was revived, Aero Union was forced to lay off part of its work force.
Since then, Unsworth and his team have worked to ensure that vulnerability doesn't happen again.
And that's a message that's good for Chico, Unsworth stresses.
Aero Union has been named a P-3 service center by Lockheed the only center in the nation other than Lockheed's own, and one of only four in the world.
Established over the next couple of months, the service center will provide maintenance, repairs and overhaul to any P-3. Lockheed visited Aero Union several times before approving the facility for this purpose, Unsworth said.
Lockheed isn't manufacturing P-3s anymore, but there are nearly 200 planes still flying domestically and another 160 worldwide, according to Unsworth.
Unsworth expects the P-3 to be the plane of choice for aerial firefighting and other purposes for years to come because of its maneuverability and stability.
Without being boastful, Unsworth calls Aero Union's team "the gurus of P-3s."
Additionally, the service center will work on C-130s and S-3s, both foreign and domestic. The planes are used for troop carrying and maritime patrol as well.
"This means a surge of work coming into Chico," Unsworth told a group of business leaders and members of Chico Economic Planning Corp. recently.
When a plane comes in for several days of work, its crew is "stuck" in Chico, staying at local hotels, possibly renting cars and eating and shopping locally, in addition to the revenue brought in by the contract.
Additionally, Aero Union is looking to diversify its holdings.
In its effort to become a propeller and landing gear repair center, Aero Union has recently purchased Propeller Service of California, based in Hollywood. Aero Union employees are at the facility now, preparing to move the operation to the Chico airport, where Aero Union is based. It should be fully operational by the third quarter.
Aero Union also is looking to buy a landing-gear repair company as well.
"We're trying to become the one-stop shop for P-3s and C-130s."
The company will be able to overhaul or repair Hamilton Sundstrand 54H60 series propellers and components for both military and commercial operators.
The center also provides these same overhaul and repair services to the Hamilton Sundstrand 63E60, 33LF, 23LF and all reciprocating models, including warbird-era aircraft.
Aero Union's goal is to become a spot where aircraft can drop in for instant propeller or landing gear work.
In another landmark move, Aero Union is penning a five-year contract for air tanker firefighting services with the Forest Service. Previously, the Forest Service was only willing to sign one-year contracts, with two one-year renewals.
"A company can't operate like that," Unsworth said.
Aero Union leases planes and personnel to the Forest Service for firefighting services throughout the country. Currently, Aero Union planes are in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Southern California, fighting wildland fires.
The NTSB is not expected to release its findings for several months on the cause of the deadly crash during a training mission.
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