A bright future for obsolescence

AvatarBy Graham Chandler | May 28, 2020

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 59 seconds.

Open CanWest Aerospace’s home page, and the first thing you’ll see is a button labeled “AOG.” As every helicopter operator knows, when you have an “aircraft-on-ground,” that means it’s of the utmost urgency.

“We are a very reactive company,” said Tom Jackson, president and owner of the Langley, British Columbia, based maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company. “What makes us unique is we can dispatch crews literally anywhere around the world on very short notice. We are at 45 countries and counting.”

For over 15 years now, the company’s priority has been reacting to clients’ needs. First, it built a complete and balanced MRO operation. Out of an earlier partnership, the company started CanWest Components and soon diversified into a more extensive component line. Next came the acquisition of an avionics company. It then purchased Precision Air Instruments, which gave it instrument overhaul and additional accessory component overhaul capabilities. The company followed that by adding airframe capabilities for maintenance and structures.

“We started small and worked our way up,” said Jackson.

Now well-diversified, CanWest offers extensive MRO services for several of the most commonly operated light, medium and heavy helicopter models. These services include: component and dynamic component repair and overhaul; structures and composites repairs; full-service avionics (including glass cockpits); aircraft rewires (partial and complete); scheduled and non-scheduled helicopter inspections; deep-level maintenance support; parts sales and exchanges; and much more.

Underlying all of this is a unique specialty.

“We are legacy experts,” said Jackson. “We specialize in working on older, obsolete helicopters; aircraft not supported by the OEM [original equipment manufacturer] or where the OEM doesn’t have the experience to support it because they are focused on newer product lines. With these older aircraft, that’s where our mobile repair teams are so successful because we have the experience. We can do the repairs on-site or bring the aircraft here. Or in a lot of cases, we modernize. And we specialize in installing special-mission systems like SAR [search and rescue], mission control gear, and tactical warning and defense systems.”

CanWest can perform these services all over the world. In the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the company does the work in the customers’ facilities or at military bases. Wherever the work has to be done, CanWest will accommodate the customer. This is especially true with military aircraft, said Jackson, since it’s not always feasible to do those in North America.

He cites an example of an overseas legacy military helicopter project the company recently finished. “We completed two Bell 212s for the Bangladesh Air Force. We completely refurbished and performed 3,000-hour, five-year inspections–completely rewired them, and fully modernized and equipped them with new mission equipment.”

The mission suite was unique. It included an integrated TrakkaBeam A800 searchlight and Trakka TC300 EO/IO sensor with mapping software.

“The equipment we bought off the shelf, but we designed and built the operational console,” said Jackson. And it did all the work efficiently. “We finished the two aircraft–20,000 to 24,000 man-hours of work–in seven months; a tremendous amount of work in a very short period of time.”

The CanWest team also provided full training, including in-country training with pilots and flight crews, for 30 days after delivery. “We flew actual training missions with them on how to use all the mission operational equipment so they can safely operate in different environments.”

And the Bangladesh Air Force was pleased with the savings. “Typically, customers–especially military and government–get an aircraft completely refurbished and modernized for one-fifth the cost of buying brand new,” said Jackson. “Plus, we offer the same warranties to the end customer as if they were buying a brand new helicopter.”

Meanwhile, CanWest’s synergistic growth continues–with an ongoing emphasis on legacy aircraft. In December 2019, the company added another 12,000-square-foot facility. Based in Fillmore, California, the new operation is named CanWest Aerospace USA Inc.

“It really focuses on growing the business of building and modifying mission systems for aircraft integration,” explained Jackson. “It fits in well with our other business units. It specializes in manufacturing aircraft structural parts and build-to-print services for military platforms such as UH-60s, CH-47 Chinooks, C-130s and AH-1 Cobras. These are still in use in many countries. And this company makes everything from cowlings to lines to structural parts. What makes it unique is with build-to-print we can deliver a part between 30 and 90 days or less. Typically with an OEM, if you ordered an obsolete part, it would take a one- to two-year lead time.”

How does CanWest overcome obsolescence so efficiently?

“The key to working on legacy platforms is having these different business units,” said Jackson. “It not only allows us to service and provide legacy parts to our customers but to do it in a timely manner. The aircraft then essentially can’t become obsolete because there are companies like ourselves that are willing to step up and manufacture the parts necessary to overcome the challenges legacy aircraft present.”

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