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Business Spotlight: Flying the Modified Sky

Worldwide Aircraft Services provides maintenance to planes worldwide in Springfield’s backyard

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If aircraft needed hospitals, Worldwide Aircraft Services Inc. would be a prescribed physician.

From Springfield’s general aviation terminal, Worldwide Aircraft handles maintenance and repairs for aircraft across the globe.

“The majority of our finished products will end up somewhere else in the world,” company Administrator Dave Vorbeck says.

The company flies in planes that need service, then de-registers them in the United States and registers them to the new country after maintenance is completed.

In a recent deal, Worldwide Aircraft entered an agreement with Saab AB for cargo modification work.

For instance, Worldwide may take an existing 340B airliner, remove the seats and test for fire protection. The 340A model was first used as a freighter with this modification.

“The 340As are becoming scarce and there seems to be a growing market for freighter planes,” says George Caracost, Saab vice president and general manager of Division Support and Services for the Americas. “They have developed on their own with the Federal Aviation Administration a cargo modification for the 340B.”

Worldwide has a joint venture with Saab at its Ashburn, North Carolina, plant that Caracost says also extends to Saab’s factory in Sweden.

Worldwide also acquired Saab’s Maritime Surveillance Aircraft demonstrator platform in the agreement.

Worldwide Aircraft operates out of a roughly 50,000-square-foot building at 2755 N. General Aviation Ave.

“We primarily work for people who own portfolios of airplanes. The assets that these people are sitting on is what we focus on,” Vorbeck says.

Its owners, President and CEO Jim McClean and Vice President Dave Dunham, founded the company. Air travel is in the owners’ blood.

“I’m 66 and got into it working for my dad in a general airport in Wichita when I was 12 years old,” McClean says. “Dave has been in it not quite as long but pretty close, since about 1973.”

Worldwide Aircraft has called the Springfield area home for three decades after being founded in Wichita in 1986 and moving to the area a year later.

“They were looking for a place to do business other than Wichita and ultimately chose Springfield,” Vorbeck says. “They operated out of a hangar just south of the old terminal for a half dozen years or so.”

Today, Worldwide conducts business with companies such as Garmin Ltd., Rockwell Collins Inc., Genesys Aerosystems, Sandel Avionics Inc. and Jupiter Avionics Corp.

For those customers, Worldwide provides an FAA repair station and handles cargo conversions, refurbishments, upgrades, engineering, avionics, technical audits and propeller maintenance. The company also performs engine conversions for Garrett by Honeywell International Inc.

Vorbeck says the biggest area for the company is its maintenance, repair and overhaul sector, which makes up 60-70 percent of business.

“That’s what we do; it’s the maintenance. We are positioned maybe a little bit differently than your average MRO because we’re very strong in avionics and very strong in engineering,” Vorbeck says, declining to disclose annual revenue for the company. “We keep avionics and engineering in-house. That helps us with anything from a simple repair or if we want to hang a camera off a surveillance airplane.”

Another area the company is working in is the regional jet market.

“We’re well down that road. The ERJ145 is about a 70-passenger jet. We’ve got one on the ramp that will be flying people to Libya here before too long,” Vorbeck says. “These will be airplanes with big fancy radars and cameras and can really gather intelligence.”

Three ERJ145 models are scheduled to be completed later this year, destined for the United Arab Emirates.

Co-owner McClean pinpoints the biggest shift throughout his time in the aviation industry: “It’s primarily in the regulatory system. It slowly becomes more bureaucratic. It’s a symptom of large government regulatory growth but you live and you adapt and you have to keep moving forward,” McClean says.

Some adaptation comes from finding good help. Worldwide currently has 50 employees.

“One of the bigger challenges is employees, even finding them,” Vorbeck says.

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