Low Cost & Regional Airline Business caught up with Chris Kilgour, C&L Aviation Group president and chief executive, to find out more about the recent ACLAS Technics acquisition
C&L Aviation Group is a FAA and EASA-approved business, expert in servicing, maintaining, and supporting operators in the corporate and regional aviation industry. In addition to aircraft and engine sales and leasing programmes, C&L offers parts support, exchange and repair options, OEM product distribution, heavy maintenance, interior refurbishment, engineering services, avionics upgrades, aircraft disassembly services, and aircraft management.
Headquartered in the US with international offices in Australia and Europe, the Bangor, Maine-based business ended 2022 by announcing that it had acquired Edinburgh, UK-based ACLAS Technics – itself a market leader in supporting a broad customer base which includes some of the industry’s largest airlines, aftermarket, MRO, and OEMs.
C&L is now set on expanding its sales and marketing efforts with the acquisition of ACLAS which boasts the broadest expertise in structural component repair and overhaul for multiple aircraft types, including ATR 42, ATR 72, B737, A320, and more.
Chris Kilgour, C&L president and chief executive, founded the business in Australia around 30 years ago from the basement of his own home, moving to Bangor, Maine in 2010 when he bought the MRO. He spoke to Aimée Turner about the rationale behind the acquisition of the Scottish business.
Low Cost & Regional Airline Business Why did you acquire ACLAS? What was it about the business that attracted you?
Chris Kilgour ACLAS is very well known for its work on ATR aircraft including structural repairs to flight control surfaces, leading edges and doors. The real synergies from this deal came because while we are an MRO, the larger part of our business is in supplying the aftermarket so we have all those structural items that ACLAS repairs in stock for exchange.
We found we were sending a lot of repairs and overhauls to ACLAS from exchanges we were doing so this acquisition brings all those elements together. Ultimately, it’s better for the operators because it will keep everything in-house. What it also does is gives us new sites in both Europe and here in the US where those exchange items can be stocked and where they can be overhauled.
In terms of what made them attractive was that we felt they demonstrated superior quality and turnaround times. In fact, before we had even thought about buying them, we had chosen to send our structural items to them because they did such a good job. ACLAS has a great reputation and anybody you speak to talk to about them will comment about the quality of their product. As we did more and more work with them, we broached the subject of acquisition.
My belief is, let’s take advantage of the synergies, but let’s let them do what they do. They have a reputation in the market for a reason and I’m not going to change that and Charles Henery, who owned ACLAS, will be remaining as managing director.
LCRAB What does C&L bring and what are the benefits to the customer of the combined operation?
CK At C&L, we have a worldwide sales team. We have people on every continent and so that we can leverage all those resources to grow ACLAS. With C&L’s infrastructure, whether it’s of an operational nature like accounting, IT, and marketing, in addition to having sales teams physically present on every continent or the fact that we have warehouses all around the world, ACLAS can leverage that to offer its services and products to a much wider range of operators.
One of the other benefits of ACLAS is that they also do structural work on other aircraft types such as B737 and A320 and so that dips our toe in the water for a whole different class of aircraft with which C&L could be dealing.
LCRAB So that could well be a new growth area for C&L too?
CK Potentially, but we’re really concentrated on our specific aircraft types and growing them. We have other aircraft types we’re looking at. We’ve already torn down a couple of Embraer E170s and we’re working to get into that market. We offer all sorts of programmes for propellers, landing gear or power by the hour contracts. We also distribute for a lot of other OEMs like Champion and Safran and PPG. We really take the holistic approach to supporting the operator, and if someone’s operating an aircraft we support, they can rely on us for everything they need. A lot of people say that but we really do offer it.
Another aspect of it is that as an MRO, we do heavy maintenance, we paint aircraft, we do full custom interiors – both corporate and regional. We’ve brought all that together and we’re now doing what’s been termed ‘semi private aircraft’. We’ve already developed and installed a first class seat and a flat floor modification for the ERJ. There’s huge demand both in Europe and here for point-to-point Part 135 operations where we upgrade the panels, the bins, the galley, seats, LED lighting and Wi Fi without having to go through all the security of a big airport. It’s an easier way to do it.
LCRAB In terms of general growth and the challenging environment for MRO providers, how do you plan to navigate your way through that?
CK The only area we’re finding challenging is the workforce on the MRO side. We have an apprenticeship programme and we’ve started to look at loan repayments for airframe and powerplant mechanics. We find we’re training our own people, whether it’s fresh A&Ps or whether it’s military people, or whether it’s apprentices. We’re also engaging with the high schools in a medium-term strategy to feed us in around five years’ time where people can be guaranteed a job once they have their A&P certificate. We’re just addressing the issue head on – whatever needs to be done.
I see that people are interested and excited to come and work for a company that’s growing like C&L. It’s an exciting place to work and that draws people which is great. We have that sort of reputation – which is something that we’ve worked on – and we try to treat our people well.
In terms of spare parts, we have a worldwide network and every week our sales guys are bringing in opportunities to buy aircraft to tear down and to buy inventories. We have no issues with finding additional inventory as we repair our own parts and through our exchange programme, we also build up our exchange pool.
The supply chain is definitely a big challenge at the moment and it’s for things that you would never have thought of as being an issue – like basic items. It seems to be getting a little better now but there’s still a long way to go on improving the supply chain. That’s what I see as the biggest challenge over the coming year. The other challenge is availability of aircraft, both corporate and regional. The ERJ is particularly popular at the moment and it’s challenging to find good examples of the aircraft.