Columbia Helicopters is ready for growth with new owners, behind the scenes at USATS, plus West Coast Helicopters, Civic Helicopters, used aircraft market outlook & more!
For a company with about 60 people, ASU (Aviation Specialties Unlimited) has accomplished an enormous amount in the 24 years since its founding. Its leadership team, however, feels ASU could achieve even more.
As president Jim Winkel explains, this comes from a place of wanting to continue to “push the envelope where technology can be applied to improve people’s lives.”
Said Winkel: “We’re on a growth trajectory. We’ve got an extensive product portfolio and an excellent customer base. We thought, why not challenge ourselves to see where we can fit with our customers’ long-term requirements and how can we drive that conversation.”
This outward focus on how ASU can benefit every stakeholder is a unique strength the company intends to continue leveraging. To do that, though, it had to look inward first.
“We looked at how we were communicating our value to our customers,” said Winkel. “The first thing we did is integrate our marketing, sales and business development teams, which then led to the establishment of a new customer service team to improve our responsiveness to customer needs.”
To further improve each client’s experience, and give them the new products they’ve been asking for, ASU made a significant investment in specialized software. This new system eliminates redundancies and allows information to flow freely throughout the organization. It will be the keystone of ASU’s future growth and improvement.
“With the deployment of that software earlier this year,” said Winkel, “we have refined our capabilities into one integrated team to ensure that we’re meeting our customers’ schedule, cost and performance objectives.”
These streamlined processes will allow ASU to devote more resources toward developing new products and services–which was the primary driver behind re-imagining ASU.
The company already has several groundbreaking new offerings planned for launch in 2019.
Said Winkel: “We’ve developed what we believe are the world’s lightest-weight aviation night vision goggles [NVGs]. They’re currently undergoing qualification testing. The feedback we’ve received on the prototypes has been extremely positive.”
ASU also recently won a development contract from the United States Air Force for a new flight helmet. The company will deliver four prototypes in May. “We believe that our airmen deserve the safest and most advanced helmets,” said Winkel, “and we have invested in the team and technology to make that a reality.”
The company also just submitted a technical standard order application to the Federal Aviation Administration for its Aeronox™ NVG mount and battery pack. Previously only available to military and public-use operators, once approved, this ruggedized, lighter-weight, repairable product will be available for all users.
As ASU becomes fully re-imagined, Winkel expects innovations like these on a more regular basis. Of course, that shift from reseller to manufacturer presents some interesting challenges, but also provides some unique possibilities.
The company will continue to represent large night-vision OEMs: ASU has taken great care to maintain those relationships while assuming the role of an OEM in developing complementary products. The resulting diverse product and service offering will be paired to meet customers’ dynamic needs.
As ASU grows its worldwide presence, it is not only looking for new partners that share its values, but it’s helping existing partners grow and transform, as well. It’s even looking at sharing some of its goggle service and aircraft NVIS (night vision imaging system) installation duties.
“We’re teaching our customers and partners and transferring our know-how,” said Winkel. “We want them to do the things we normally do so they can better help their communities, meet local needs and so our partners have more opportunities to create jobs in their regions.”
ASU is also hoping these enhanced partnerships can help it continue to champion NVGs in new markets/applications.
One such application is aerial firefighting. The company is attacking this challenge both regionally and globally.
“When we looked at the need for this, we started talking to an operator in South Africa. We’ve sent one of our regional guys and tech experts there to meet the operator and talk to regulators about safely deploying aerial firefighting assets at night.”
At the same time, ASU is consulting with partners in Australia and building a coalition in the U.S. with operators, communities and legislators.
“We want to bring everyone around the table to look at all the concerns. We want to make sure we’re doing this safely and smartly.”
ASU’s efforts in aerial night firefighting encapsulate the company’s look forward. Its core focus is still the same, but its desire to be better means the company is continually exploring new opportunities in emerging markets.
“ASU will always be ASU,” said Winkel. “We’re never going to stray from our identity–NVG centric. But, as we re-imagine ourselves, I see other technologies coming into play. I see us becoming more of an OEM and further developing our partner network to benefit our customers, partners and the industry as a whole.”