If you’ve ever flown on one of Boeing’s new 737 Max 8 aircraft, which were launched two years ago, chances are that your plane spent a few days inside a gigantic hangar at Georgetown’s Delaware Coastal Airport before you stepped on board.
“We build and install [the planes’] auxiliary fuel systems in our hangars,” says ALOFT AeroArchitects CEO Robert Sundin, “and then they fly them back to Boeing in Seattle.”
When ALOFT works on the aircraft, they are considered “green,” which means they have been flight tested but not yet totally outfitted for airline service, Sundin explains. In total, the ALOFT hangars at Delaware Coastal Airport can handle about seven to nine of the large aircraft at one time.
With current sales of about $60 million dollars, Sundin says that business is definitely looking up for the aerospace company founded about 40 years ago as PATS Aircraft Systems. ALOFT opened its Georgetown facilities in 1998. In addition to airplanes used in civilian air traffic, ALOFT also installs auxiliary tank systems for the U.S. Air Force.
“We expect to have revenue of about $100 million in a few years, with between 340 and 350 employees,” many of them highly skilled, says Sundin. The company now employs about 75 engineers.
Additionally, Sundin says, “The people who power the private aircraft market are starting to increase their discretionary spending,” another strong source of revenue for ALOFT. In addition to its ability to produce various flight systems for aircraft, the privately held company is also a major outfitter for aircraft interiors. “We provide everything from design to installation to maintenance,” Sundin says, noting that, “It generally costs about $3 million to $5 million to refit an aircraft.”
Although the domestic market constitutes the major income stream for ALOFT, Sundin says the company also does work in Europe with Airbus and in Canada with Bombardier. In fact, Sundin has considerable experience with foreign producers himself, having worked in executive positions with Dassault, a French aircraft manufacturer, for 10 years and with Bombardier for more than 20. He laughs that in a job interview he had pronounced the latter’s name English style — “bom-ber-DEER” — rather than the correct French pronunciation, “bom-BAR-dee-ay”
While recruiting is competitive for experienced technicians and engineers, Sundin says that his main stumbling block is not in attracting recruits to rural southern Delaware, but just keeping abreast with the industry-wide demand for people who can fill these positions.
“We are fortunate in that we have been able to attract the people we need,” he says. “And we are able to support our customers’ needs around the world.”