XN Avionics LLC hopes to take flight, figuratively speaking, once it moves into a planned larger hangar-office complex at Spokane International Airport thats expected to be completed by fall.
In the meantime, the 16-month-old subsidiary of Cheney-based electronics manufacturer XN Technologies Inc. is stretching out just enough to flap its wings a bit. It recently about doubled, to 7,200 square feet, the space it leases in a large hangar on the south side of the airport, so it could handle more of the demand its been experiencing, says John Hale, its president.
Its already using that added space, and Hale says, We could be bringing more aircraft in now if we had more room.
The airport plans to construct a 16,000-square-foot operations center for XN Avionics on the south side of its West Plains property, and the company will lease the facility from the airport. Hale says the much larger space there will give the company plenty of room to grow.
XN Avionics, also called XN Air, installs and repairs communications and navigational electronics used aboard aircraft. That includes instruments such as radios, altimeters, autopilots, and global-positioning systems. It is the only avionics company at Spokane International Airport and one of only three in the Spokane-Coeur dAlene area.
It formed by buying out a small company here called Tri-City Avionics Inc., Hale says, after which we just started looking at extending our operation far beyond the services that company had offered.
XN Avionics first broadened the operations targeted clientele beyond owners and operators of small single-engine planes, such as Beechcrafts and Cessnas, to include corporate jets, he says. It now is looking to develop a presence in other markets, such as by providing a range of avionics-related help-you-build services to the growing home-built aircraft market and by going after corporate fleet-support work.
To grow, Hale says, We need to diversify ourselves as much as possible.
XN Avionics started with five employees, which is more than Tri-City Avionics had employed, and already has expanded that work force to 13 people, he says. The company has estimated it could grow by December 2006 to more than 60 employees, who would receive an average annual salary of $37,000.
Hale says that ambitious job-growth estimate will depend, though, on a number of factors, including how successful it is in attracting experienced technicians. Qualified avionics technicians are hard to come by, and XN Avionics may have to focus on developing training programs to meet its staffing needs, he says.
Hale declines to disclose the companys revenues, but Spokane Airport Board documents related to a project funding application said the company had doubled its volume in the short time it had been operating at the airport.
One area in which XN Avionics hopes to see a stream of revenue over the next several years is the installation of more accurate instruments to comply with new reduced vertical separation minimum standards.
Implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration last month, those standards reduce the minimum vertical spacing between aircraft during flight by halfto 1,000 feet from the previous 2,000 feetat altitudes between 29,000 feet and 41,000. The change doubles the number of airspace routes in that high-altitude, fuel-efficient zone, and is expected to save airlines more than $5 billion in fuel costs over the next decade by allowing them to fly more direct routes, the FAA says.
The regulatory revision is possible due to the availability now of more precise altimeters, which must be accurate to within less than 200 feet in that zone, and autopilot systems. Hale says many privately owned planes have yet to be retrofitted with that new-generation equipment and that such cockpit modernizations are expensive, costing $60,000 to $70,000 on the low end.
RVSM, as the tighter sandwiching of planes also is known, has been implemented safely over the last seven years in less complex airspaces from Europe to Australia and over most of the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the FAA says. To give airlines time to re-equip their planes, implementation of the new minimum in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico was delayed until last month.
Regulatory-related potential revenue streams aside, Hale says XN Avionics already is drawing in customers from a wide geographical area, partly because planes are so mobile and that its not uncommon for owners to fly substantial distances for service work.
That mobility means, though, that aircraft owners in this region also arent limited to having work done by avionics companies here. Therefore, what it really comes down to is word of mouth, and providing good service, Hale says. In XN Avionics case, that includes offering a lifetime warranty on installations.
XN Avionics also isnt limiting its services just to what it can provide in its hangar space here. Its sending technicians out on remote repair assignments, as needed, and has worked on planes in Wenatchee and Quincy, Wash., and Coeur dAlene, Sandpoint, and Lewiston, Idaho, among other locales, Hale says.
The hangar where its operation currently is locatedcalled Building 725is on Davison Boulevard, just north of Pilot Drive, southeast across the airports main runway from the terminal. The new building that the company will occupy will be located a short distance southwest of there, along a westward extension of Pilot Drive, and will include shops, offices, and laboratory space. The project also will include the construction of 20,000 square feet of aircraft apron space and 12,000 square feet of vehicle parking for customers and employees. The estimated cost of the project is $1.6 million. Construction is expected to be completed around the end of August.
Womer & Associates Inc., of Spokane, was expected to begin designing the project this week, and construction bids are expected to be sought in April, says airport spokesman Todd Woodard. The current schedule calls for the Spokane Airport Board to award a construction contract at its regular meeting in May, he says. Spokane International Airport will use an $800,000 loan and $200,000 grant, both from the Washington state Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB), along with $602,000 of its own matching money, to fund the project.
The investments by the CERB and SIA in economic public infrastructure supporting XN Airs growth creates the environment for the company to increase the availability of higher-wage jobs for the Spokane area, says Juli Wilkerson, director of the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED).
The technical jobs created by XN Air will provide employment for college graduates as well as on-the-job training opportunities for existing and future employee advancement, she says.
Woodard says this was the first CERB funding package approved in Spokane County, which is the last county in the state to make use of the program.
A CTED staff report said the CERB funding was crucial to the project because XN Avionics had looked at moving to North Idaho and had said the only way the project could work in Washington was with state funding support.
Airport officials hope XN Aviations growth will serve as a magnet for attracting other aviation-related commerce at the airport. Its also expected to serve as a potential catalyst for more technical and manufacturing jobs at the parent company, XN Technologies. That company, located at 2416 Cheney-Spokane Road, makes high-performance electronic signal-processing equipment.
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