Survival through growth (and other things)
Aviation has always been an industry of continual change. Certainly technology has seen steady evolution since Richard Pearse defied gravity on a road inland from Timaru, and the ground support infrastructure needed to keep aircraft aloft has developed alongside the machines.
Aviation is an industry particularly affected by ever-changing local and global economics. For this and other reasons, many aviation businesses have come and many have also gone. Some of the old company names still hang over hangar doors today, but few retain their original owners.
Thirty years ago, in February 1984, Pat MacKenzie and his son Glenn joined forces with Dave Stewart to form Hamilton Aero Maintenance Ltd (HAM). Glenn and Dave had both trained as aircraft engineers at Air New Zealand, and with Pat’s business expertise they aimed to set new standards for the aviation service industry.
The company recently celebrated its 30th birthday with this partnership still in place. The longevity of the original management team is a tribute to their innovation, customer focus and can-do attitude. It also says much about how they treat their staff and their customers.
Throughout this time they have broadened their service base to add income sources to the core maintenance business, and in 1992 HAM Aero joined forces with Clive Law-Brown to create HAM Aero Avionics for the full package in aircraft maintenance. With not enough space in the existing hangar for the new division, a purpose-built avionics facility was added.
Right from the beginning the company formed a good working relationship with the Hamilton Airport company, taking on all manner of tasks around the airport including fire fighting services, general maintenance and mowing the grass.
This willingness to tackle a wide variety of work led to contracts for airline maintenance with Air New Zealand, Kiwi Air, Freedom Air, Pacific Blue and several other regional carriers. The company has seen its share of airlines come and go from Hamilton but still provides the ramp services such as maintenance, refuelling, baggage handling and ground handling. In February 2014 HAM Aero became the ground service provider at Rotorua International Airport, including BP refuelling.
Chris Evans is HAM Aero CEO, and when asked why he thought the company had been so successful, he didn’t hesitate in his reply.
“It’s the people we have working here. Look around and you will see many who have been with the company for more than 20 years. I think they are proud of the company and they work hard as a team.”
To back this up he explained, “This is my second time working here. I always thought that when you leave a company you should never go back for a second time, but this is a company I wanted to come back to.”
The company maintains a diverse range of aircraft, giving the staff opportunities to learn with plenty of variety. They encourage clients to build a good working relationship, benefiting both parties.
HAM Aero’s client list includes private, commercial and airline owners throughout New Zealand and overseas, from individuals to major airlines and governments. The ability to send skilled staff, at short notice, to wherever the work is has seen the company’s reputation grow.
Dave Stewart is engineering manager and works closely with maintenance manager Greg Bowen. Their combined experience and methodical approach to their work ensure high standards are met.
The company has CAA approval for maintenance of Groups 1, 2, 3 and 5 aircraft (from wooden or steel tube fabric-covered to large airline transport) and also Groups 1, 2 and 3 powerplants (normally aspirated to turbo/supercharged, radial piston engines and turboprops such as the P&W PT6 and Honeywell TPE3301). Add the avionics capability and it can tackle a wide range of tasks.
The HAM Aero team is proud of the quality of the service provided. In 1995 they were one of the first GA maintenance companies to gain CAA Part 145 certification, and their quality programme covers all aspects of operations. Such high standards bring a number of air transport and air ambulance operators, both fixed wing and helicopters, to be maintained there.
HAM Aero Avionics has the experience and knowledge to tackle major avionics refit and repair work, and while there I saw in amazement the complexity of the recent avionics refit and upgrade of the Philips Search and Rescue Trust’s BK117. The convenience of having the avionics unit on site benefits both the company and its clients. The team has its collective finger on the pulse of all the latest equipment and technology available in this ever-changing industry, and Clive travels regularly overseas to keep abreast of new developments and has a wide range of contacts.
Airline maintenance is an important aspect of the business, and 12 licensed and multi-rated staff are available for the variety of airline work. They hold ratings from A320/B737 to A340/B777 and A380, the latter three types obviously not seen at Hamilton but in conjunction with Menzies Aviation at Auckland.
Over the years HAM Aero has invested in equipment, buildings and staff training to allow for these types to be serviced, and the hangar facilities at Hamilton are large enough to house B737s or A320s.
The investment needed to work with the airlines has been large. As history shows, this can be a fickle game. The costs have to be carried as, one after another, HAM Aero has seen airlines roar into town and leave much more quietly. The highs and lows have been dealt with positively, evident in attitudes and company growth.
While the company acknowledges the importance of the airline and large GA customers, they treat the small private owner with just as much respect. Every client is welcomed warmly and his or her aircraft is subjected to the same care and attention as bigger clients. They believe there is no job that is too big or too small.
With the large range of aircraft types which arrive at the hangar doors, the logistics of sourcing and stocking parts requires a knowledgeable stores manager. Gary McNeill, who has been with company since 2006, fills this role.
The ground support team is led by Glenn MacKenzie, Tim O’Neill and Ken Grant. Glenn has built a reputation within the industry for taking on new projects and making them work. His willingness to go wherever the client needs support has seen the team working throughout New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific.
Tim has a dual role as ground support manager and also quality assurance manager, while Ken is ramp manager. All the ramp services for flights at both Hamilton and Rotorua airports are provided by the HAM Aero team, working to ensure the safe and efficient turnaround of aircraft including scheduled, corporate, charter, emergency and itinerant flights.
The experience gained over the years has seen the company set up ground handling and engineering turnaround support at several locations in both New Zealand and Australia. This includes ETOPS turnaround for Air New Zealand A320 operations in Rotorua for the Sydney service.
This company has ridden the highs and lows of fickle times and is proof that the best tool in the toolbox is the team that walks in the door each day.
Pat, Dave and Glenn should be proud of their achievements. With a successful 30 years under their belts, the next 30 should see many more celebrations for HAM Aero. Happy birthday!
-Report and photography by Neroli Henwood.
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