THERE IS NO WAY AROUND IT: Avionics performance is an exact science. The margin for error is nonexistent, the need for accuracy and reliability pressing. If an electronic display is supposed to beep, it ought to beep. If it's designed to blip, it had better blip. And no matter what, the beeps and blips must happen at precisely the correct moment. It's all a very meticulous, inside-the-box discipline.
Still, when it comes to the business and customer service aspects of avionics, it may be those who operate best outside the box who ultimately show the most promise. "That's what it takes," says Ricardo Linares, "constantly looking at industry changes and adapting to them."
Linares has the experience to know. A former OEM technician, he's now COO of Avcom Technik, a Miami-based avionics company that embraces creative problem-solving and, when necessary, business model evolution.
That's not to say the company has eschewed tradition totally throughout its history. Avcom got started, in fact, in the old-fashioned way. Some 23 years ago, Rolando Suarez was a talented technician with a dream and more vision than most, so he set out on his own, doing general aviation work at Miami's Opa-Locka Airport at first, then progressing into the air transport market and eventually specializing in avionics.
Today by all accounts he's still as hands-on as owner and president of Avcom as he was back in the early stages of the business. "You're always going to be able to reach us here," explains VP-Operations Jaime Oubina. "You're not going to get an answering machine, you'll get us, and there's sufficient experience and wherewithal to engage, troubleshoot and resolve most issues right here."
"Sufficient experience" may be understating it. Many of the management's key players, including Suarez, Linares, Oubina and Engineering Director Ed Rodriguez, measure their time at Avcom by the decade rather than the year. Indeed, thanks to a comprehensive benefits package, very competitive training programs and, perhaps most importantly, a comfortable, family oriented work environment, the firm enjoys "a very low turnover rate among all employees," says Oubina.
Familiarity, however, has not bred complacency. "We are a team of young and aggressive technicians, engineers and marketers," says Linares. "We're constantly looking for ways to improve and stay on top."
THE TOUGH KEEP GOING
It's no secret that the aviation industry is taking some big hits right now. Simply put, many companies have decided to slow down, scale back and wait out the storm. If the folks at Avcom ever considered that strategy, the meeting didn't last long.
"We did go from 25 to 22 employees here," admits Oubina. But the company still has an office in the UK and representatives in Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and Israel, "and we're looking for more to expand [and] get out there more globally," he adds. "We're still in continued growth mode. That's what sets us apart from everybody else."
Avcom's actions support Oubina's words. "We just purchased an EADS ATEC-6 that is tailored to the Airbus A319, A320 and A321," he says. "Besides the airlines, we're the only privately held company in North America that owns one." The avionics testing system will join an already impressive battery of assessment technology that includes, among others, multiple IRIS (1100, 1200, 2000 and 7000) and RADA-CATS machines.
All told, Avcom operates 17 Automatic Test Equipment systems and is an approved vendor for 95% of domestic and international carriers. "We're pretty much able to repair all manufacturers' units under one roof," he explains.
Actually, they'll soon be doing their repairs under three roofs. The company is slated to move into a new 7,010-sq.-m. facility in early 2009. The modern building will serve as the corporate headquarters and house all the ATE units, which, Oubina notes, "aren't warehouse-space friendly but have been our solution for continued success." The current 3,657-sq.-m. workspace will be rededicated to manual testing and they'll also have a research and development property spanning approximately 1,524 sq. m. All three structures are located within a 2-3-block radius of each other about 5 mi. from Miami International.
Growth is good. New buildings are attractive and new equipment is exciting. But there has to be a payoff. Customers have to materialize. To that end, Avcom Technik is planning to do what it always has done: Focus on unwavering quality while finding innovative ways to take care of its clients.
Perhaps Linares sums it up best: "The ATE that we're using is exactly the same as what the OEMs are going to run their boxes through. The return-to-service tests, which our technicians have to follow step-by-step in order to safely and accurately complete, are the same." The company has support agreements with most OEMs and abundant access to the latest software for the ATE.
"Quality is not an issue here," he adds. "We match that of the airline or OEM. It's about finding a way to save our customers time and money. So we've consolidated the high-end capabilities from six OEMs and our technicians repair down to the component level. The objectives are efficient turn-times and cost savings."
Without sacrificing the aforementioned quality. "We offer an avionics reliability program," notes Oubina. The goal is to "increase the longevity of the box so we don't have units coming back." The numbers don't lie: Avcom boasts a warranty return rate of less than 1%.
To stretch client dollars even further, the company soon will unveil a new wrinkle in its pricing structure. "In 2009, we're going to introduce a very aggressive flat-rate repair program for all ATE-tested products," explains Oubina. "It's going to be a flat price, all the way across the board."
The final numbers and details haven't been released, but the purpose is clear. "We're trying to attract low-cost carriers and additional MROs throughout the industry," he says. "And possibly make Avcom Technik the final piece of the puzzle that a lot of these MROs need. [We're] constantly changing and reinventing ourselves, evolving with the technology to provide fleet operatorsand the entire industrya genuine OEM alternative."
If it's true that rolling stones gather no moss, in terms of business philosophy Avcom Technik is a full-scale landslide. Simple "satisfaction" doesn't fit into the company mentality. Over the years, in addition to providing airline and OEM-grade avionics overhauls, its talented technicians and engineers have designed a number of proprietary maintenance procedures.
Oubina beams when given a chance to detail his technicians' in-house development efforts. "It's something we're very proud of. We have a TCAS antenna repair process, which has been successful for at least the last eight years," he says. "Another one is an EDU rejuvenation process. Both are FAA-approved and both are thriving because they're cost-saving solutions for MROs and air carriers--and we're the only shop that can offer these."
That's not the end of that story of course. "We have others in the works," he teases. "There's more to come, some scheduled for 2009, that should be very attractive throughout the industry." His new-year promise notwithstanding, from a national perspective--global even--nobody knows for sure what 2009 will bring. It is unlikely the economy will get straightened out anytime soon. But for Avcom Technik, the future seems very attractive.
"Look," Oubina concludes, "last year didn't go as well as we projected, but it didn't go as badly as it could have either. We came up with new programs, better pricing, changed things around, picked up some new accounts and we managed to do okay. We're even seeing a lot of third-party shops starting to copy our work, watching to see if they can stay competitive."
Competitive is one thing, keeping pace is quite another. It's safe to say that Suarez, Linares, Oubina, Rodriquez and the others will be leading the way in avionics maintenance for the foreseeable future. "We'll keep thinking outside the box, reinventing ourselves," Oubina adds, "to be sure that we've got solid footing for many years to come."