The 2019 Vertical Photo Contest, Synergy Flight School, SAF Group, flying the Bristol Sycamore, on-demand helicopter market focus & more!
There are countless hours of work that are poured into the maintenance and completions of the components that make up the insides of an aircraft. Operators rely on the caretakers of these components to enable the smooth and safe operation of their fleets. To help make helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft more comfortable and safer to fly, Suki Chanthyvong started Aerotex in 1994, after immigrating to Canada from Laos.
Starting out with just three employees at a facility in Calgary, Alberta, Aerotex focused initially on crafting and repairing aircraft upholstery; it has now grown into an approved maintenance organization (AMO) with 22 employees and has added both avionics and cargo net divisions.
“We cover all aircraft interiors top to bottom — you name it, we can do it,” said Nathan Le, general manager at Aerotex. “And on the cargo net side of the company, we provide seatbelt repairs, any type of refurbishment on seats, [and] custom fittings for special projects.”
While the company has grown, it has remained within the family. Suki’s son Carson Chanthyvong now serves as Aerotex’s president, and general manager Le is Carson’s cousin. “We’re very family oriented,” said Le, “and we care about our customers. We believe that they’re also our family . . . and we want to make sure that everything is to their exact needs.”
The company is approved to provide services for helicopters across the spectrum of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) including Bell, Airbus, Sikorsky, Leonardo, MD Helicopters, and Robinson Helicopter Company. Some of the more common aircraft that are brought to Aerotex’s facility include the Bell 212, 412, and 206; Airbus AS350 AStars, EC130s and EC120s; and Robinson R22s and R44s, to name a few.
These helicopters, and other fixed-wing aircraft, come to the Calgary AMO from well-known North American operators like Eagle Copters, Alpine Aviation, Longview Aviation, and Viking Air Limited. Le said the company has also branched out globally to companies like Abu Dhabi Aviation and Falcon Aviation, and is looking to become a vendor for a company in the U.K.
Aerotex is AS9100-compliant (an international quality management system standard for the aviation, space and defense industries) and “we are working to make sure that we maintain that status,” Le said. It is also one of only a few a companies certified by Transport Canada to provide cargo net, shoulder harness, and seatbelt repairs by performing webbing replacement with special equipment.
Doing what it takes
Over the last 25 years, Aerotex has seen over 1,000 helicopters in need of custom interior products or refurbishments go through its facility. But this number doesn’t represent every helicopter the company has worked on throughout more than two decades, since the staff will often travel to aircraft owners and operators who are in need of products or repairs.
“Recently, myself and a team member here flew out to Newfoundland, last minute, to go meet with a customer,” Le said. “There were some tears in their seat covers, so we flew all the way out there to repair them. That’s how much we love our customers.”
He said the team will also travel to aircraft owners for custom fitting projects to ensure products fit properly in aircraft and meet customers’ specifications, “instead of us just sending [products] out to them.” Le added that there’s no limitation to the distance the Aerotex team would travel to assist a customer.
Some work is kept in-house, including orders to build certain interior components like seats, for example.
Many of the customized orders that Aerotex receives are to improve safety within and while operating aircraft, Le told Vertical.
“I talk with a lot of chief pilots, and they always ask me, ‘Will you be able to make this?’ And my answer is always, ‘Of course I can,'” he said. “So we work closely with pilots, line maintenance [personnel], as well as avionics personnel in helping them find the optimal solution for their aerospace needs.”
Aerotex has worked with the Calgary Police Service Air Support Unit several times to provide various services, like aircraft covers and seats, for its Airbus EC120s — known as Helicopter Air Watch for Community Safety (HAWCS) aircraft.
The way forward
“One of our big projects that we’re pushing forward right now is getting our avionics department out there,” Le said.
On the avionics side, Aerotex focuses mainly on the custom assembly of wire harnesses; the company holds a supplemental type certificate (STC) for a harness kit, and is growing to acquire additional STCs in its avionics division. Le told Vertical the company is also working on creating a repair shop at its Calgary facility that caters specifically to avionics.
Within its upholstery division, Aerotex designs and manufactures helicopter covers for all types — something the company has done since its inception. “We make covers for [rotor] blades, engines — everything you can think of to cover a helicopter,” Le said.
Being situated in Calgary, Aerotex is familiar with harsh winter weather, and the company knows many North American operators experience a wide variety of weather conditions, too. It recently started producing covers with winter modifications that feature layered materials — from 3M Advanced Materials — to protect aircraft on the coldest of days.
The well-received cover side of the business is in the process of becoming more efficient as the company is working “vigorously” to digitize the cover patterns in its library to exact measurements with its CNC technology.
“When a customer orders a cover it gets cut on our plotting cable in no time,” Le said. “The fastest time I’ve seen something get cut on there was about 30 seconds, and then it was sewn right away. So with our CNC capability for fabrics as well as metals, woods, etc., we’ve been able to significantly reduce our lead times.”
Le added that Aerotex is now working towards ensuring its patterns are correct as they get inputted into the company’s CNC database to speed up the production process as much as possible.
Reduction of lead times is something Le said Aerotex is striving towards as the company is making various improvements. The current average lead time at Aerotex is about three weeks, but the company is hoping to reduce that to two weeks or less. This time is extended for custom orders, however, as this type of work require prototypes to be built first for customer approval.
“Customers will say, ‘This is the seat we want, can you make it?’ ” Le explained. “We’re going to make [a prototype] first, and then as soon as they’re happy we will proceed with the process.”
Aerotex has also recently implemented in-house quality management to ensure every product is inspected before leaving the facility and meets both the company’s and the aircraft owners’ standards. Le added: “We don’t ever want to send anything out that has not met specification.”
Le said these combined efforts will contribute to the company’s ongoing goal of keeping customers happy and aircraft in top form.
“I’m very grateful to the Aerotex team for their unwavering dedication and support as we go through changes within the company moving forward,” he said. “I’m also very grateful for our loyal customers; we provide not only superior quality products, but superior relationships as well. We’re looking forward to continuing our tradition and growing the company.”