Saturday, September 07, 2013

After early challenges, aircraft refinishing venture begins to soar: Sturgis Aviation Inc. at Kirsch Municipal Airport (KIRS), Sturgis, Michigan

Sturgis Aviation Inc., a custom aircraft refinishing company, has been in Sturgis since 1999, housed in several buildings at Kirsch Municipal Airport.

Sturgis  —

Sturgis Aviation Inc., a custom aircraft refinishing company, has been in Sturgis since 1999, housed in  several buildings at Kirsch Municipal Airport.

The business started in the 1990s when co-owners Danny King and Dave LaPorte worked at a Kalamazoo and Battle Creek area company that paints jets. The company was purchased by a larger corporation, so the two decided to begin pursuing other opportunities.

They started to look for airports with a runway long enough  to meet their needs and with buildings large enough for a painting business. They found that Kirsch Municipal Airport in Sturgis suited their requirements.

Initially, they needed to invest some major money to get everything up and running. They got help from a local bank, then for the next six months they kept their regular jobs, traveling to Sturgis after work and on weekends to get everything ready.

In October 1999, they painted their first airplane, King said.

By the end of the year, both had quit their jobs and were on their own in Sturgis.

“Things were going pretty well, and then 9-11,” King said. “We almost didn’t survive.”

One airplane was in the shop that day and could not fly for weeks. The rest of their orders for the year were canceled.

“We painted a motor home and a boat — anything to survive,” LaPorte said.

The bank once again was accommodating, and by the start of 2022, business picked up and the venture has grown ever since.

Currently, Sturgis Aviation is booked until March 2014, King said. They typically paint two or three planes a month, depending on size of the aircraft.

One of the company’s largest accounts is Travel Management of Elkhart, Ind., a privately owned luxury charter jet company. It typically has one of its 69 jets at the paint shop at a given time.

King and LaPorte fill different roles in their business.

“Danny is the up-front guy,” LaPorte said. “I’m out in the shop. This is more of a hobby for me. Painting airplanes is what I do best.”

King said, “I like the business part of it. Making it all happen — the success.”

Six people in addition to the co-owners now work for Sturgis Aviation.

Despite a bump in the road in 2001, the company has experienced steady growth. Was it a good business venture?

“Oh yeah,” LaPorte said.  “Terrific.”



Steps involved in the custom aircraft refinishing business: 

  • Create a conceptual design
  • Mask off windows in preparation for chemical stripping
  • Chemical stripping
  • Treat bare metal in preparation for epoxy primer
  • Remove flight controls for painting
  • Apply anti-static primer
  • Mask for stripes/designs
  • Other services include work on all types of aircrafts, small jobs and touch-up projects.

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