Back in 1997, Ken Moon and his five colleagues knew they wanted to move on from their jobs at Innotech Aviation of Halifax, Nova Scotia. So they had a choice: Do they move off into six different directions or do they start up “something new?” With a decided strength in avionics and aircraft maintenance they figured that they just might have the stuff to appeal to corporate clientele.
“We were six individuals who basically wanted to try and do their own thing, who saw how maintenance should be run,” says Moon, the director of technical services for Penta Aviation of Vancouver, British Columbia.
“We started off with one airplane as a customer and built it to where it is today in about seven years.”
“It” in this case refers to Pacific Aero Tech Inc., the maintenance wing of Penta, which was created when Moon and his colleagues joined forces with the known Jens family and their Canada Jet Charters company in Vancouver. The final piece of the puzzle was in place, says Moon, to make Penta, and by extension Pacific Aero Tech, one of the most successful full-service aviation companies in Western Canada.
For proof, he points to sales growth of approximately 20 percent each year for the past seven years. What once began as a shared idea among six ambitious individuals has blossomed, Moon boasts, into maintenance, avionics, and interior shops of 70 employees and an FBO and air charter service of 110 employees — “everyone from administration to bistro staff and pilots.”
“We’ve had truly dramatic growth,” says Moon, “and I don’t expect that to end very soon.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Penta Aviation operates primarily in the Pacific Northwest, including the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. Here, the resource industries, agriculture, and high tech drive the local economies.
Not surprisingly, Penta’s customers are those small exclusive corporate entities — oil and lumber executives who utilize their own corporate aircraft — along with the heads of large food and computer companies, who routinely travel between Vancouver and California, and to points in Western Canada, Toronto, and New York.
Moon admits the competition is stiff, mostly from “the Gulfstreams and the Garretts who have facilities all over the U.S.,” but it’s Penta’s expansion plans which he believes will make it an even bigger force in the aviation industry.
“We’re now a Bombardier service center for the Challenger and the Lear. We’re a Raytheon-Hawker service center, which is our primary market, and we’re also now just getting set up to look after the new Chal-lenger 300 when it gets put out in the market later this year. We’re going after the corporate market, the top end corporate operator.”
Penta’s FBO and charter sides also have a lot to offer, Moon adds, from a charter fleet that includes a Lear 55, two Lear 35s, and a Citation 2, to a large hangar, private sleep rooms, and a bistro overlooking an easily accessible ramp.
Like FBOs, maintenance, and charter services elsewhere, Canadian aviation services are heavily regulated, though not so heavily, says Pacific Aero Tech’s general manager Nigel Argent, as companies in the U.S. Argent is particularly intrigued by the U.S. efforts to deal with fractional ownership and with the desire among small charter companies to fly larger aircraft that normally would drop into FAR Part 125.
“They’ve actually made a change in the regs for the Global Express to make sure it fits into FAA 135,” observes Argent. “But the regs have been around for a long time. There’s a lot of changes that have gone on with 9/11 and everything else. It’s interesting.”
Canada’s equivalent to FAA Part 135 is Canadian Aviation Regulation 704, which is also coming under increasing scrutiny by Canadian aviation companies and regulators. But the real changes, says Argent, are occurring at the FAA’s counterpart in Ottawa, Transport Canada. Last year the Canadian Business Aircraft Association (CBAA) took over licensing and certification of operators of private business aircraft in Canada from Transport Canada, a change that may be extended to charter companies under CAR 704 in 2005. Transport Canada still retains enforcement powers when someone breaks the rules, says Argent, but it’s what happens after “someone does something daft” that will matter.
“What will happen is that the good operators will force through good operational stuff and Transport Canada won’t knee jerk whenever the bad operator does a stupid thing and all the rest of us have to live with a new regulation. So from my perspective as a professional, it’s a very, very good thing.”
These days it’s not interference from Ottawa that has given Penta Aviation and Canada Jet its biggest headaches, it’s the competition. Several years ago, Canada Jet took “a major hit” when four companies (London Air Services, Omega Aviation, North Western Internation-al, and Carson Air) challenged its supremacy as the charter air service in Vancouver. The job now is to reclaim its earlier status, says Marci Jens, who helps coordinate the charter side of the business.
“We’re trying to get our name back out there as a charter and so that Penta, our parent company, is a recognized name.
”Working with a local marketing firm, Jens is engaged in a branding exercise intended to fix Penta’s name in the minds of prospective clients, while distinguishing among the firm’s three divisions. For his part, Ken Moon doesn’t expect this exercise to extend beyond minor changes to brochures, websites, and the like. Marcie Jens and Nigel Argent? They see things a little differently.
“I believe more in putting things in the limelight and let people know what you can do,” says Argent, “because one of the worst conversations to have is after you’ve found out a customer’s just done something with someone else and you say, ` We could have done that.’ And they say, `Well, why didn’t you tell me?’ ”
If there’s one thing Argent and Moon do agree on, it’s that despite 9/11 and a slowing economy generally, corporate aviation is still a winner.
Comments Moon, “I see nothing but growth at this point.”