While times remain tough for many industrial painting contractors, one company has found gold in the nation’s corporate sea of red ink.
Leading Edge Aviation Services, Inc. (LEAS), the world’s largest commercial aircraft painting company, is anticipating its second straight year of record growth and its 21st straight year of growth.
The Santa Ana, CA-based firm is running its five facilities at full capacity. Over the last five years, its workforce of more than 500 employees has painted more than 2,000 aircraft. Its customers include virtually every major carrier or regional airline in North America, as well as a number of overseas carriers.
Turkey in the Hangar
In addition, Santa recently brought the company an early Christmas present: a contract to repaint up to 700 jets in the newly merged United and Continental Airlines fleets.
Employees "ate their Thanksgiving turkey in the hangar, and they'll have their Christmas ham under the wing," Mike Manclark, the company’s president and CEO, told the Houston Chronicle this week.
Painters are working overtime to give the fleet its new look: the United name over Continental’s blue, white and gold colors and globe logo.
The deadline for the job is the end of 2012, and the company’s Amarillo, TX, facility is "booked to capacity for the next two years," Manclark recently told the Associated Press. "It's been at capacity forever." The plant will be adding about 100 jobs in the near future, Manclark said.
The job will require 65 to 180 gallons of paint per plane, depending on the aircraft's size and the extent of repainting needed, the Chronicle reports. Some planes need only a name change; others, a complete redo, the newspaper said.
The companies did not disclose the amount of the contract.
The company also just finished painting 350 aircraft in 14 months in the wake of the Northwest/Delta merger.
While corporate mergers have accelerated the need for aircraft repainting, the sector tends to stay busy. Airlines repaint planes every five to six years, to keep their brand fresh and their aircraft protected from weather and climate extremes, the Chronicle notes.
"By the time we get to the end, it's time to start over," Manclark told the paper.
Indeed, Leading Edge’s success is built on more than M&A prey.
Over the past 20 years, the company has evolved from being a small California aircraft detailer to an aviation giant, with revenues of more than $42 million a year. In addition to painting aircraft, LEAS provides a range of on-call services for its airline customers.
In addition to its fleet works for commercial, regional and cargo carriers, the company also completes “one off” jobs. In 2009, it painted one of the F/A-18 Hornets flown by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration squadron.
It also teamed up with Southwest Airlines last year to produce a special Sports Illustrated plane emblazoned with supermodel Bar Rafaeli. The Boeing 737-700 will fly between New York and Las Vegas.
Faster Turnaround, Future Growth
Manclark credits part of the company’s success to its improved turnaround times. “It used to take 14 days to strip and paint a Boeing 747, but we now have that process down to eight days,” he reports. “When you consider a 747 generates approximately a $1 million a day in revenue, a fast turnaround becomes very valuable and important.”
With the commercial aviation market beginning to emerge from its slump, Manclark foresees continued growth for the company, founded in 1989.
The continuing M&A feeding frenzy won’t hurt.
Vaughn Cordle, managing partner and chief analyst for Airline Forecasts, told the Associated Press: "It's funny, after following these airlines for many years, these teams come up with a new logo and colors but rarely finish painting all the planes before there's another [merger] transaction."