May 14, 2015
Reporter-Jacksonville Business Journal
Flightstar Aircraft Services LLC — one of the fastest-growing manufacturers on the First Coast — is soaring to new heights.
The company, once a mom-and-pop shop that now does plane maintenance and repairs for customers such as Delta and FedEx, is still in growth mode after it opened the doors to its new hangar at Cecil Airport earlier this year.
“We're getting secure work to fill that hangar,” said Chris Long, business development executive for the company. “With that comes employment of new people. We're trying to grow into the new size of the hangar.”
With so much room to grow into its additional capacity caused by the new hangar, Long said the company was even open to expanding even further, depending on the future needs of customers.
In fact, Long said the company was open to a whole slew of new opportunities.
“We're always looking for the next opportunity,” he said. “Whether it's a customer or whether it's an opportunity to develop a new line of business for us. I don't believe the company feels as if we've topped out. I don't think this is our max as of today. I believe that we want to continue to grow.”
That affirmation comes among some chatter that the company might be in talks with new partners or losing contracts. Long said neither was the case.
“Flightstar is not being sold or acquired,” he said. “We have equity partners who sit on our board, they've been here the last two to three years and are not new.”
As to the contracts, Long said it might seem like the company has less Delta work: That's because it does.
“We actually have a long-term contract with them,” he said. “They have cycles in their business. There is peak travel demand in the summer months — they traditionally have all aircraft flying during the peak period. Our maintenance for Delta goes down during the peak season, but it doesn't mean we lost the contract.”
He compared it to how FedEx and UPS aren't having maintenance done during the Christmas season when they need their planes most.
“People may interpret it as we lost the business,” he said. “That is absolutely not the case.”
In fact, he said the company recently hit a growth spurt, which is why it's looking to fill its additional capacity.
The MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) provider, which was one of the Business Journal's 50 fastest-growing private area companies by revenue last year, is poised to fill that space with employment by tapping into the skilled and trainable workforce in the area.
“There is a high demand for aviation mechanics throughout the industry — that's true across the U.S.,” Long said. “We're working to recruit and grow internally those types of mechanics.”
Long said his company was looking to steer young students interested in the aviation field into attending schools that will train them, as well as seeking out candidates from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and Florida State College at Jacksonville's aviation program.
“If we can have local talent join us, they're more invested in the community,” he said. “We want to stay [looking] in Jacksonville.”
To seek for talent here is even more ideal given the strong aviation culture of the lower Southeast.
“For MRO work in Jacksonville, there is a strong aviation presence here in Florida,” he said, adding that behind Washington, which houses Boeing, Florida has the strongest aviation industry. “Because of that and also the lower operating cost in the Southeast, it's advantageous for our type of company to locate here.”
And Flightstar shows no signs of slowing down.
“We're definitely on pace with what we had last year,” Long said. “We're hoping to exceed our revenue projections. We have growth in those projections and we're looking at achieving that for this year.”