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Pentastar Aviation Skyrockets to Success

Sponsored by Michigan Economic Development Corp.

 
The global aerospace industry will skyrocket, according to industry forecasts estimating the need for more than 41,000 new aircraft, valued at more than $6 trillion, in the next 20 years.

Michigan is on the forefront of this growth, said Tony Vernaci, president of the Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan. The state, which is home to more than 600 aerospace-related companies, ranks second among states, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’s 2017 Aerospace manufacturing attractiveness rankings.

“Michigan is a manufacturing state; it’s technology, research,” said Vernaci.

In 1914, just 11 years after the Wright brothers’ first successful flight, the University of Michigan launched its aerospace engineering program, currently ranked third in the U.S. And during World War II, Rosie the Riveters built B-24 bombers at the Ford Motor Co.-built Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Fit to fly with a healthy supply chain

The natural synergy between automotive and aerospace industries helps make the state top flight in aerospace.

The aerospace supply chain is similar to the auto-industry supply chain in that it has tiers of suppliers, original equipment manufacturers (airframers) and maintenance and repair operations. Similarly, aerospace companies also utilize Michigan’s healthy tool and die and manufacturing infrastructure, where there’s unrivaled knowledge in research, light-weighting and fuel economy, autonomy, robotics and cybersecurity.

“I don’t think there’s any place on the planet that has these two industries converging in a larger and more meaningful way than Michigan,” added Vernaci.

Michigan’s strength also includes its depth of technical talent: Nearly 20 Michigan colleges and universities offer courses in aerospace and aviation, with three offering degrees. In addition, there are seven mechanical, industrial and aerospace engineers per 1,000 residents, ranking it No. 1 in the nation for engineering talent.

The state showed off these strengths on Feb. 21 when aerospace suppliers and buyers from around the world converged on Detroit’s new Little Caesars Arena for the first Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC) Aerospace Summit.

“The 2018 Pure Michigan Aerospace Summit featured 24 global purchasers who understand that the Michigan supply base has the ability to step in and address their most immediate and important needs,” said Ryan Michael, director of Pure Michigan Business Connect. “By initiating and facilitating conversations, we can both support our in-state companies by uncovering new opportunities as well as increasing the exposure for Michigan as a vital, global aerospace contributor.”

Flying toward the future

The entrance of Pentastar fixed-base operator headquarters at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford Twp.

The entrance of Pentastar fixed-base operator headquarters at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford Twp.

One example of a Michigan company putting its talent and lengthy tech experience to work is Pentastar Aviation.

Founded in 1964, Pentastar is the largest fixed-base operator (FBO) at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford Twp.

The company, which handles maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) for aircraft from all manufacturers, is helping move the industry forward by participating in the Michigan Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program. Members are guiding efforts to outline a potential regulatory environment, an educational system and an outreach strategy that establishes Michigan as a go-to location to test, develop and deploy unmanned aircraft technology.

Pentastar President and CEO Greg Schmidt.

“We think we’ve got some knowledge to lend in terms of training requirements and flight specs,” said company President and CEO Greg Schmidt. The National Business Aviation Association plans to honor Pentastar with a safety award this year for not having one reportable incident in 28 years.

A privately held company that Aviation International Newsnamed as one of the Top 5 percent of fixed-based-operators in the Americas from 2016-2017, Pentastar employs about 220 people. Among its numerous services, it also provides private jet charter, aircraft management and aircraft cabin-interior-design services. The company also supports Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System’s Superior Air-Ground Ambulance’s EC-135 helicopter.

Its charter services include a fleet of 22 aircraft ranging from a six-to-eight-passenger light jet to an ultra-long-range jet that seats 12 to 17. In 2017, Pentastar Aviation accommodated more than 11,000 aircraft carrying professional sports teams, business executives and other VIPs, such as Vice President Mike Pence and First Lady Melania Trump.

Vernaci, who flew with Pentastar for years when he was a Textron Inc. executive, called Pentastar an important part of the state’s ecosystem.

Marty Hiller, president of the National Air Transportation Association in Washington, D.C., agreed. He said the company also serves small- and medium-sized businesses that use Pentastar to visit their customers and grow their business.

“It’s more of a utility than a perk,” Hiller said.

The Pentastar Team

In terms of high-tech work, Pentastar also is designing, engineering and installing innovative avionics technology in cockpits and cabins.

“Aircraft owners place their trust in us every day,” said Schmidt. “Currently, what’s on their minds is a series of mandates from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regarding avionics that have to be installed in aircraft by 2020 to operate in U.S. airspace.”

With FAA support, the company’s engineers are developing and installing advanced electronic devices, including the ADS-B Out, created to enhance safety and efficiency by moving to precise tracking using satellite signals instead of ground radar and navigational aids.

Like Pentastar, other innovative and adaptive Michigan companies are in a position to thrive as the aerospace industry moves toward the future in ways similar to the automotive industry and mobility, Vernaci said.

“This is a real opportunity for Michigan to excel on its strength of design, technical and manufacturing, and make a significant contribution to the industry.”

Learn more about Michigan’s aerospace industry from Planet M.

Source: Crains Detroit

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