Monday, March 24, 2014

Key customer for Erickson Air-Crane depends on Afghanistan contracts

Portland's Erickson Air-Crane has a lot riding on the U.S. military.

Erickson filed its annual 10-K statement earlier this month and it illustrates some of the effects of the company's $250 million acquisition last year of Evergreen Helicopters, the rotary-wing unit of the ailing McMinnville-based aviation services company. (Evergreen filed for dissolution at the end of last year. Its bankruptcy case is continuing in Delaware.)

Evergreen was a military subcontractor, supplying aviation services in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. According to Erickson's 10-K, its largest customer in 2013 was Fluor Corp., which provided 14.8 percent of Erickson's 2013 net revenue. A footnote explains that Fluor, a diversified contractor that supports U.S. military bases overseas, was an Evergreen Helicopters customer in previous years.

Erickson's total net revenue last year was $318.2 million, which means Fluor accounted for about $47.1 million. That goes a way toward explaining why Erickson's revenue jumped more than 75 percent from 2012.

Erickson does a lot of work for a lot of different customers. The business of fighting wildfires, for example, is a core competency for the company and one that it supplemented by last year's purchase of Air Amazonia, a Brazilian firm spun off by an energy conglomerate. Adding the Brazilian fleet and contracts will help reduce the seasonality of Erickson's revenues, the company said.

But as the "Risk Factors" section of the 10-K notes, revenues can lift or plunge rather suddenly if a key customer hiccups. As for Fluor, notes the filing, "in light of anticipated troop withdrawals in Afghanistan, there is a heightened risk of a decline in our future revenue attributable to our contract with Fluor."

A few other tidbits from the 10-K:

  • The acquisitions of Evergreen Helicopters and Air Amazonia expanded Erickson's headcount dramatically. Before the purchases, Erickson had about 700 workers, most of them in Oregon. Now it employs about 1,200 people, including 500 in Oregon. (The company's largest plant is in Central Point.) 
  • The company has taken on significant debt to finance its acquisitions and expansions. Total borrowings at the end of last year were a little more than $440 million.
  • Erickson's biggest stockholder is ZM Equity and associated entities, which control "a majority of our outstanding common stock." (ZM does business as Centre Lane Partners.)

Erickson's profitability dipped in 2013, but the company remains solidly in the black, with net income last year of $9.9 million on net revenues of $318.2 million.

Erickson's shares have bounced around over the last year. They were trading Monday in the $18-$19 range, down considerably from the $29-plus heights reached last spring in the wake of the Evergreen Helicopters deal. But shareholders have picked the shares up from the $14 range where they traded late last summer.

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Cape Air flights to Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands cancelled until March 29th - ‘Technical issue’ scuttle regular flights

All Cape Air flights from Guam to Saipan and Rota have been cancelled until March 29, following a “technical issue,” according to a statement yesterday by United Airlines, which operates the flights.

United Airlines spokeswoman Regine Lee said that United “has decided to operate an extra flight with a Boeing 737-800 aircraft every day until March 29 to make arrangements for the affected customers to complete their journeys.”

She said the extra flight is scheduled to depart Guam daily at 7:30pm as flight UA1746 and set to arrive on Saipan at 8:10pm. Then, the flight will depart Saipan at 8:55pm and arrive in Guam at 10:52pm with a short stop on Rota.

Cape Air, the only carrier now servicing travelers from the CNMI to neighboring Guam has reportedly been experiencing delays in its regular flights since Friday due to what was described as “maintenance check.”

Saipan Tribune learned this from sources who also disclosed that Cape Air’s lone ATR-42 aircraft made an emergency landing Friday at the Francisco C. Ada-Saipan International Airport runway at past 2pm.

At least two customers affected by the delayed flights confirmed the sudden changes in their flight schedules.

One customer who was supposed to return to Rota by Saturday had to wait for the company’s other aircraft and her departure was rescheduled for Sunday.

Another customer traveling to Guam who had a confirmed schedule for Sunday was also rescheduled to today, Tuesday.

Saipan Tribune learned that the temporary delay in the carrier’s regular flights was a result of the maintenance check needed for its ATR-42—the sole aircraft being used to transport passengers to Rota and Guam and vice versa.

It was the middle of last year when Cape Air resumed daily fights to Rota from a four-times-a-week schedule. Since early this month, Cape Air has been the only carrier providing air service to Rota after Freedom Air stopped flying on March 8 when the airline’s aviation insurance expired. 


Kavoo: Danbury, Connecticut, air taxi company acquired by Atlanta firm

Kavoo, the Danbury-based air taxi provider, has been acquired by ImagineAir, in one of the "biggest moves" in the air taxi industry, according to the buyer.

Kavoo, which charters private flights to and from Danbury Municipal Airport, started operating as a subsidiary of Imagine Air Jet Services last month.

Terms of the agreement weren't disclosed.

The combined services of the two companies will span the eastern U.S. and make use of the online reservations system developed by Atlanta-based ImagineAir, which has a fleet of Cirrus SR22-GTS aircraft and a network of thousands of underutilized airports.

The air taxi industry provides an alternative to congested highways and commercial airports for business travelers. The business was born after NASA created a $70 million program over a decade ago, the Small Aircraft Transportation System, to encourage the use of under-served airports in the U.S. and the use of smaller air services, according to a press release.

"Kavoo and ImagineAir have a great opportunity to fulfill the promises NASA envisioned many years ago," Richard Humphrey, Kavoo's CEO, said in the release.

Using smaller, more expensive, private air travel services can be a boon to the business traveler for whom time is of the essence, said Jeff Burger, editor of Business Jet Traveler magazine. Based on the annual survey the magazine conducts with its readers, saving time is the primary reason for flying privately. Others include privacy for working or conducting in-flight business meetings and the ability to fly closer to the final destination than a commercial airline would allow.

"In this economy, charter is becoming more popular," Burger said. "It's more expensive than flying commercially, but it can be economical for business travelers. For people who are well-paid, their time is valuable."

Following this merger, ImagineAir wants to invest in further developing its proprietary fleet management, infrastructure and flight optimization software.

"As we grow, technology will enable us to leverage optimization and create efficiencies across all facets of the company and our service," Ryan Rodd, chief technology officer of ImagineAir, said in a statement. "The reduced costs allow us to pass on incredible savings to travelers."


Despite questions, Charlotte to study coal ash at airport

The Charlotte City Council was skeptical Monday about Duke Energy’s plant to move 4 million tons of coal ash to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, but members voted unanimously for the city to further study the issue.

Duke and Charah Inc. have proposed moving the ash from unlined ponds near Mountain Island Lake to the airport, where it could be used as fill material, possibly for a new runway. Duke said the ash would be wrapped inside a liner like a “coal ash burrito,” which would protect groundwater, the company said.

City Manager Ron Carlee said the city would only strike a deal with Duke if it’s environmentally safe and if it makes sense financially for the airport.

Mountain Island Lake – which is close to the ash ponds today – is the city’s drinking water source. Council members said the unlined ponds are a problem, but some were skittish about bringing so much toxic material into the city.

They raised questions about whether groundwater could be harmed and the environmental impact of more than 160,000 truck trips to move the ash.

But some environmentalists said Monday they felt it could be a good solution to a long-term festering problem. Charah and Duke have shifted ash to Asheville Regional Airport, where they started burying it almost seven years ago.

“Almost everything is better than storing the ash in an unlined lagoon next to your drinking water,” said Rick Gaskins of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.

“We can’t speak for all of the environmental groups,” he said. “But we will offer our qualified support for looking into this. It all depends on the details.”

Michael Barnes, the mayor pro tem, questioned Duke and Charah about the possible impact to drinking water. Duke and Charah said the lining would seal in the ash, but that pipes would carry any water under the site into the city’s sewer system.

“You will be introducing all of the poisons and hazardous materials ...into our sewer system?” Barnes said.

Barry Gullet, director of Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities, said other utilities have had similar arrangements with treating wastewater from coal ash ponds. He said CMU would study the issue.

Council members Ed Driggs and Al Austin asked about negative impacts of moving the ash. Charah said one of its trucks can carry between 18 and 25 tons of ash. Considering the company is planning to move 4 million tons, that could be 160,000 to more than 222,000 truck trips.

Charah said it works to make sure the ash is covered as it is being moved. It also said it works to clean its trucks to minimize dust.

Gaskins said dust will be a problem.

“Charah may have done a great job (moving ash in Asheville),” he said. “But you will have people coming to council meetings saying they have dust on their car.”

Council member David Howard wondered whether Charah’s system for containing the ash – which include six feet of dirt and a liner – would be able to withstand the impact of large jets at one of the world’s busiest airports.

Gaskins said that’s a valid concern.

“What is the impact of having 747s land on this?” he said. “What will that do to the liner?”

He also said it’s critical for Duke and Charah to fully clean the ponds, not just remove the ash.

City staff members and Duke had been discussing for months whether moving the coal ash to the airport would be beneficial.

Council members voted after the presentation for city staff to continue exploring the issue, a process that should take 60 days.

It’s uncertain if the airport needs a fourth parallel runway, though one has long been planned. The airport is undertaking a capacity study to see if the runway is needed.

Charlotte Assistant City Manager Hyong Yi said the airport might not even build a runway on the fill.

“There is no designated project for the fill,” Yi said. “That may or may not be the case.”

Howard said he wasn’t interested in the project “if it won’t save us money.”


Weydahl Field Airport (9Y1), Killdeer, North Dakota

Killdeer airport taking off: Planes coming in, expansion plans taking shape 
KILLDEER, N.D. — Dunn County’s Weydahl Field Airport has come a long way since a summer storm last year destroyed its hangar and three planes.

The runway reopened a month ago and plans are already underway for its replacement, which would be a little wider than the current one.

The airport signed the last purchase agreements this month for the land for the new runway.

“We get phone calls every week from people that want to fly in,” said Mike Schollmeyer, chairman of the Dunn County Airport Authority, “a lot of crews that want to fly in from Texas, Utah, Oklahoma.”

The business comes both from personal and corporate flights. Companies will fly in crews of eight to 12 workers to work in the Oil Patch, for example.

The $4.6 million new concrete runway will be slightly wider than the old one, at 60 feet by 4,200 feet. It’ll also be engineered for a longer life expectancy, with conservative estimates expecting it to last at least 30 years, Schollmeyer said.

That’ll mean the runway can be a landing strip for bigger planes like larger twin engines, Dunn County Airport Authority treasurer Jason Hutchinson said.

The project is in the bidding stages and once that’s complete, the construction will take about 90 days, Schollmeyer said.

In the process, crews will also lay the dirt work for the possible future expansion to 75-by-5,000 feet, Schollmeyer said. If that expansion happens, planes holding as many as 20 people could land.

“Due to the cost of cement and asphalt, it’s just too expensive” to expand that much now, he said.

“We have no idea where the oil boom is gonna take us, but right now there is very high demand to bring in crews,” Schollmeyer said.

Montana pilot Harold Matovich flies a twin-engine plane for a construction company based in Lewistown, Mont., mostly “flying the boss around” to show him gravel locations.

Before the airport reopened about a month ago, Matovich would have to fly to airports farther away. But from Weydahl Field, one dump site is very close.

The new runway will be able to land planes with up to about 10 people.

The airport has been working on the expansion for more than a year, since before a storm last summer that “put a little setback” in the plans, Hutchinson said.

That storm destroyed the airport’s hangar and damaged three planes that were inside.

The city of Killdeer once owned the airport but wasn’t using it and it fell into disrepair. The poor condition is still evident in a bad patch of runway that limits its length.

“It kinda hinders the size of plane that can land,” Hutchinson said.

Clarence Schollmeyer, Mike’s father who died in a plane crash in November 2012, saw the opportunity to reopen the airstrip as oil activity picked up.

That started with getting the airport into the county’s hands, with the authority.

“The runway was closed for 10 years and it’s not much better than it was last year,” Mike Schollmeyer said of the existing airstrip.

“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a battle wound.”

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Valley Aero Club wants to breathe new life into James Clements Municipal Airport (3CM), Bay City, Michigan

BAY CITY, MI — George LaPorte wants to see Bay City's James Clements Airport return to its glory days, but he has his work cut out for him.

Dealing with a steady drop in overall usage and a lack of aviation interest from a younger generation, James Clements Airport isn't what it used to be, he says.

"There once was a flying school here, many flying clubs, a number of aircrafts stored in the main hangar ... we want to see it return to usefulness," said LaPorte, president of the Valley Aero Club, a group of aviation enthusiasts that has had a presence at the airport, 614 River Road, for the past 60 years.

In order for that happen, LaPorte and the Valley Aero Club are leaning on the city-owned Henry Dora Memorial Hangar to serve as a nucleus for revitalization.

The club has drafted an agreement that would have the city lease the historic hangar to the club. Under that agreement, the club would pay for all utilities and day-to-day upkeep of the hangar, and in return, would be able to profit off subleasing hangar space and events held at the hangar. That money, under the pending agreement, would help the club pay for maintenance and marketing of the hangar and help decrease the city's airport subsidy.

The idea is that the city doesn't have enough money or resources to improve the hangar and use it to generate income.

"We would like to clean up the hangar and prevent it from deteriorating worse than it already is, and then get more people using it," said LaPorte. "But in order to do that, we need some kind of autonomy. Without that, it's pointless to get involved."

The 10,000-square-foot, faded blue Dora hangar has seen better days. Birds have crashed through windows, the sliding door on the north end of the building doesn't open all the way and the last paint job happened too long ago for most to remember when.

"It's a money pit," said Charles Binder, a principle of the Valley Aero Club. "We've been trying for years to bring that hangar back to its fullest, but it will require maintenance that's beyond the reach of the average municipality."

The city's subsidy

Today, about $50,000 in city tax dollars subsidizes airport operations each year, with $29,000 of that paying the salary of Doug Dodge, the airport manager. The city also leans on fuel sales at the airport, hangar and land leases and an AT&T cell tower lease at the site to make money.

For this fiscal year, the city anticipates to make $19,998 in land leases of 40 private hangars, $1,200 for storing three aircrafts, $16,127 from a land lease with AT&T, $5,760 in city-owned T-hangar rentals (at full occupancy, revenue could be $19,200), $6,250 in aviation fuel and $2,400 in leasing 30 acres for agricultural use, for a total of nearly $52,000.

Last year, pilots pumped about 30,000 gallons of fuel at the airport, said Darwin Baranski, the city's parks director. That department also looks over the operations of the airport.

The city is an independent fuel provider, meaning it purchases fuel on the open market through a competitive bid process. It then raises the price of fuel by 50-cents per gallon at a minimum for pilots. Fuel at the airport today costs $5.60 per gallon.

In the 1990s, it wasn't uncommon to have as many as 55,000 gallons of fuel pumped, said Baranski. At that time, he said, there was a small flight school and pilots who would rent out their aircrafts.

If more aviation enthusiasts start spending more time and dollars to fly at the airport, the city would be able to make more money off things like fuel and rental space, said Baranski.

The state hasn't taken a census of operations from the airport since 2003, when there were about 21,000 takeoffs. Today, airport officials estimate somewhere between 8,500 and 10,500 takeoffs annually.

"Until general aviation starts coming back — and we don't know if it ever will because of the expense — it's going to be tough to make more money," said Baranski.

That's what the Valley Aero Club is hoping to change.

Airport history

In 1912, Lionel DeRemer, Henry Dora and Clarence Colley built and flew a Wright Flyer No. 15 on a field at the southern edge of Bay City, which ultimately became the site of James Clements Airport. About 16 years later, James Clements Airport was established. In August of 1928, the first U.S. airmail arrived at the airport.

James Clements was the son of William Clements, a wealthy industrialist in Bay City in the early 1900s. William Clements was a member of the local chamber of commerce at the time that was looking into how to finance an airport.

James Clements died of influenza in France while fighting in World War I. Heartbroken over the death of his son, William Clements and his partners on the chamber decided to name the airport in memory of James.

"Not only was it a memorial to his son, but to all of the veterans of World War I," said Geraldine Higgs, a local historian who has written about James Clements Airport.

The airport’s main hangar was constructed in 1929 and its administration building was completed a year later. In 1931, Henry Dora was appointed as the first airport manager. the hangar was later named after him.

In 1939, the airport was deeded to the city of Bay City in order to qualify for federal money under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration.

Throughout much of the 1930s and 40s, there were several flying clubs that would have upward of 80 members sharing one or two airplanes, said Binder.

“Those clubs were the genesis of the airport,” he said.

The goal of the agreement

About 10 years ago, the city had a structural evaluation done on the Dora hangar and repair estimates approached the $1 million mark, said Baranski.

"It'd probably be more expensive in today's dollars," he said.

Establishing a public-private partnership agreement with the city doesn't mean repairs to the hangar will happen overnight, said Dave Huiskens, another principle with Valley Aero Club and a pilot who has 40 years of experience in teaching aviation.

"The first step is creating more energy and excitement around the airport," said Huiskens. "We know the city is strapped for resources and it doesn't have a lot of money for things like marketing. That 's what we intend to do.

"We're going to take whatever revenue is generated from activities at the hangar and have it help pay the subsidy from the city. Once those are paid off, then we can start investing in projects."

There have been eight major projects at the airport since 2006, including repaving of airline aprons, building additional hangars and creating a seaplane ramp and service drive. Bay City's airport is one of two full-service seaplane bases in Michigan. The other one is located in Traverse City.

Those projects totaled about $2.2 million. The Federal Aviation Administration paid for 90 percent of costs; the Michigan Bureau of Aeronautics, an arm of the Michigan Department of Transportation, paid 5 percent, and the city picked up the remainder, or about $110,000.

Those types of projects are expected to continue, even if an agreement is signed between the city and the aviation club. A $417,000 project is on the table for this year to rehabilitate one of the airport's taxiways and hangar taxi streets. The funding breakdown for such a project would be similar to past projects with the city paying about $20,000.

"Those projects hire local contractors and bring jobs to the area," said Dodge, the airport manager. "The community sees the city spending $50,000, but they also need to see the return on investment."

Bigger projects — such as the million-dollar-plus project to completely renovate the Dora hangar — could come down the road, but FAA officials have said they'd need to see a growing interest in the airport.

"They're not going to give us a million bucks if there's only four people out here flying around," said Binder.

That could mean opening the hangar up for non-aviation-related events, such as groups hosting a seminar or corporate event, or weddings, as was the case in August, when a Bay City couple tied the knot after working through a dizzying amount of red tape. Non-aviation events require permission from the FAA and the Michigan Bureau of Aeronautics, in addition to the city.

"With an agreement in place, we can manage those kinds of headaches," said Huiskens. "We know all of the entities and understand everything that needs to be done."

The idea of a public-private partnership with smaller, municipal airports isn't out of the ordinary, says William Dunn, vice president of airport advocacy for the Airport Owners and Pilots Association, a national aviation interest organization.

Dunn pointed to Los Angeles county, which owns six general aviation airports. A number of years ago, the county decided it didn't want to be in the airport operation business, so it contracted a management team.

"It's a partnership that definitely benefits both sides," said Dunn.

"To make it work, though, there needs to be promotion of the airport. A lot of people don't understand what an airport means to a community. Most people don't think of airports as part of the transportation system, but they need to think of it in the same way as a local highway — an entry into the community."

Building interest

What the Valley Aero Club hopes to do is attract more aviation enthusiasts, in addition to businesses.

This summer, Huiskens is hosting a pilot ground school to help new pilots pass the written part of a pilot's license test. Members of the club will also lean on their popular Father's Day breakfast, which annually draws hundreds of families. 

 "We would love to get more young people out here interested in flying," said LaPorte.

That could be easier said than done.

The high cost of flying is one hurdle, says Huiskens. The bigger barrier is making flying exciting again.

"People in my era grew up with the space program and flying was this extraordinary thing," he said. "Today, flying is routine. They take it for granted. Students today are really into instant gratification. When they realize they can't become a pilot in a week, it's discouraging."

To entice pilots today to fly into Bay City, LaPorte says he’d love to have a few cars parked at the airport that they could use to drive into Bay City for lunch and a day of shopping.

“Pilots love to fly,” he said. “It’d be an easy way for them to come in, park their plane, get in a car and head into the city for the day, then fly back.”

He said the airport will never be the size of MBS International Airport in Freeland, 15 miles away, but it could also be a useful aviation port for businesses.

“We could try and attract larger corporations to use this airport as a business hub,” he said.

Trevor Keys, an economic development specialist at Bay Future Inc., said the organization hasn’t specifically used the airport as a marketing tool to bring in business, but says it has potential.

“We’d definitely want to use all of our assets when recruiting industry to our area,” he said.

It's also important for the city that the airport succeeds. If the airport closed, it would actually cost the city more money, said Commissioner Chad Sibley, 8th Ward.

The Clements family, through a trust, donated the land for the airport to the city. If the city closed the airport, it would have to give back the land, he said.

Additionally, the city would have to pay back millions of dollars to the FAA that it has procured over the years.

"That's why we need a good plan for the airport that can create some revenues," he said. "I think the Valley Aero Club can do that."

About 40 private hangars are leased from the airport today by private pilots. Only a few businesses, including Monitor Township-based Dice Corp. and Standish-based Magline Inc., rent hangar space at the airport for business.

Additionally, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources flies out of James Clements, weather-pending, on a daily basis to do fish counts.

The City Commission could vote to approve the agreement at it's 7:30 p.m. meeting on March 31 at Bay City Hall, 300 Washington Ave.

Commission President Lori Dufresne, 4th Ward, says she needs to she what revisions city staff makes to the agreement before making any decisions on it.

Commissioner Elizabeth Peters, 2nd Ward, said she anticipates the agreement to go through and looks forward to the partnership.

"They have some good ideas and they really want to help the airport," said Peters. "They want to have a place they're proud of and feel good about for keeping and flying airplanes.

"It's nothing but positive."

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