ST Aerospace San Antonio plans to open a new hangar by the end of this year which will result in an over 30% increase in the maintenance company's capacity.

The Singapore Technologies Aerospace (ST Aero) subsidiary now has six widebody bays. ST Aero's recently retired president Tay Kok Khiang says a new hangar with two widebody bays is currently under construction at San Antonio International Airport and will open by the end of this year.

Tay says the new hangar is being added in response to increasing demand as the US market begins to recover. "Today the market is still picking up slowly. If the economy really turns up which is predicted, in the US [demand] will outstretch the capacity," Tay told ATI just prior to his 1 May retirement.

"We expect to see [demand] improve over time, but whether it takes six months or a year we really don't know."

Tay was ST Aero's chief for nine years and led the company's 2002 acquisition of Texas-based Dee Howard Aircraft Maintenance. Dee Howard, which was acquired while under bankruptcy court protection, was initially rebranded by ST Aero as San Antonio Aerospace (SAA). Last November the business again was rebranded and became ST Aerospace San Antonio.

Tay says ST Aerospace San Antonio and ST Aero's other US aircraft maintenance facility, Alabama-based ST Aerospace Mobile, have faired relatively well during the economic downturn as their airline customers have continued to use ST Aero. "In the US yes there was a decline [in the overall market] but we never saw that from our angle because we have strong customers in the US."

About 80% to 90% of the aircraft serviced at ST Aerospace San Antonio and ST Aerospace Mobile are from US customers. Tay says ST Aero also has some European and Russian customers at its US facilities.

He adds ST Aerospace San Antonio and ST Aerospace Mobile have remained full during the economic downturn and all the 2010 maintenance slots at the two facilities are currently sold. "That's why we are adding a new hangar in San Antonio," Tay says.

ST Aerospace San Antonio currently overhauls a wide mix of widebody, narrowbody and regional aircraft. ST Aerospace Mobile, previously known as Mobile Aerospace Engineering (MAE) overhauls both widebody and narrowbody aircraft and currently has three cargo conversion lines for the Boeing 757. There are currently 10 bays at ST Aerospace Mobile.

While ST Aero continues to see its US business grow the company is not interested in acquiring or opening any new US facilities. Tay says adding capacity at its existing facilities makes more sense as existing overhead can be leveraged.

"Adding hangars is nothing. Buying a whole new facility is a separate thing. To add a hangar you only have to add manpower and supervision," he explains.

But while ST Aero is adding two more bays in San Antonio Tay says most of ST Aero's expansion in the region going forward will be directed at its ST Aerospace Panama subsidiary. ST Aero's Panama facility opened in 2007 and is about one-third through its ramp-up phase which will end with the unit having 12 full-time narrowbody maintenance lines.

"The alternative for us was simple. Either we buy another company in the US or buy offshore. So we went offshore," Tay says, explaining ST Aero's early 2006 decision to set up a company in Central America.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news