Avionics News July 2020 - 43

Rick Ochs, chief executive officer of Spirit Aeronautics,
is scrambling to land another long-term military contract
like the E9A installation to help his shop weather the
coronavirus storm. And he is doing some other things to
gin up new business. "We are blessed with the Air Force
contract," he said. "All else is completely quiet. It is really
going to be difficult, as general aviation is going to take
a hit. We'll come back; we just need to keep hanging in
there."
Spirit works mostly on business jets and turboprops,
and Ochs noted that Honeywell estimates that 700 turbine
aircraft with their avionics systems on them still have to
be equipped with ADS-B. He hopes to land some of those
installations. ADS-B upgrades start at approximately
$80,000 for a business jet, he added. "There are still a lot of
holdouts, and we have quoted a few of those jobs. But right
now, no one is flying their aircraft, so everything is just in a
big pause."
Lately, Spirit also has been doing a lot of cabin
entertainment and connectivity projects on aircraft because
a lot of cabin entertainment systems are a decade old and
failing. However, he said, "It is a lot more challenging to
do work right now on the discretionary spending side."
Ochs is doing all he can to preserve cash and has
reshuffled his budget for the year to not buy additional
equipment unless absolutely needed for a project on hand.
It pains him to hold off his favorite vendors, but he has to
do it to get through the rest of this year.
His office staff is working from home, and he is doing
a lot more Webex meetings in the office to keep everyone
isolated. He has generous space inside the hangar for his
administrative staff.
He is using best-practice policies to address health
issues. His son, who is a parts manager, was a medical
corpsman in the Army, so he takes everyone's temperature
when they report in the morning.
Spirit also has a road team that can fly to do work at
other airports at MRO facilities or at a customer's hangar,
and it is planning to set up a satellite facility for work in
the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He thinks there will be a lot of
people chartering business jets under Part 135 as pent-up
demand takes hold when the virus wanes. People will still
want to do business face to face and shake hands when
significant deals are in the works.
When it comes to dealing with customers for avionics
installations, "there is nothing like a face-to-face sit-down
and a good old-fashioned handshake, and we can't wait
for things to go back to the way they were," said Monica
Gualandri, repair station coordinator for Sarasota Avionics
in Venice, Florida.

Sarasota employs 70 people including at its main Venice
Municipal Airport location in Florida while also running repair
stations at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, Palm
Beach County Park Airport, Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa
and Charlotte County Airport in Punta Gorda.
One complication is providing customers with a test flight
to familiarize them with a new avionics installation. One
aircraft owner who is 26 decided to take his aircraft for a first
flight on his own because he is a caretaker for his 91-yearold father. It is also hard to be in the cockpit with a mask on,
Gualandri said. But there are other ways the company works
to help customers become familiar with new avionics such as
a few hours of instruction on the ground and courses that are
available online.
Sarasota works mainly on piston aircraft and turboprops and
does some avionics work on light jets. "We were full like most
every other shop in the United States when this COVID-19
thing got started," Gualandri said. "Then quite a few people
canceled or postponed projects due to the uncertainty of the
situation."
Florida depends on tourism, and a lot of people aren't flying
into the state while many part-time residents have gone home.
The company is using physical distancing, sanitizers and
wiping down surfaces, and there is a notice on every door
saying the shop is not taking any walk-ins without prior
arrangements.
Most customers come in wearing masks. "We are fortunate
(at Venice) to have a 10,000-square-foot hangar with a garage
door on every wall and air fans with good circulation.
Other than ADS-B, the hot-ticket item has been new digital
autopilots from Garmin. As Gualandri looked out on the floor,
she saw four out of the seven planes at the shop getting new
autopilots. The Garmin autopilot is affordable and offers a lot
of additional safety features.
"We were fortunate that we were deemed to be an essential
business," said Shawn McClintock, Sarasota vice president.
As one door closed, another one opened. Owners of aircraft
based at Venice would not have even asked if Sarasota
Avionics could handle routine maintenance for them because
the shop was so busy with major installations. Now the
schedule allows for that work to be done. Things were slower
overall in Sarasota's shops, but by early May, there had been
no layoffs.
Gualandri said her company truly missed not being able
to go to Nashville for the AEA International Convention
& Trade Show. It has been fantastic, she said, to be able to
take advantage of online training and meetings offered by
the AEA and manufacturers. Also, the face-to-face business
opportunities offered at AirVenture Oshkosh will be sorely
missed this year, she added. q
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Avionics News July 2020

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