The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 16, 2013

When business is so good

Local aircraft repair firm growing faster than it can find help

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Mickey and Kay Stowers have a problem.

For business owners, it is a good problem to have. Their business is so good, they need more employees.

“We’ve really been expanding here the last several years,” Mickey Stowers said. “Everybody else has been going backwards and we’re going forwards. We could grow faster ...”

“We just can’t get employees,” said Kay Stowers, finishing her husband’s sentence.

‘We need people’

The Stowers are co-owners of Aircraft Structures International Corp., located at Enid Woodring Regional Airport. The firm’s primary mission is rebuilding and repairing the Cessna 208 Caravan, a single-engine turboprop that is a true aviation workhorse, used by international cargo carriers like FedEx as well as many foreign airlines. Unlike other aircraft, the Caravan was not impacted by the Great Recession.

“They kept producing that airplane when they cut production on all the rest,” Mickey said.

Currently the company has 33 employees but could use more.

“We have to turn work away,” Mickey said. “We could use another 40 people right now.”

“It’s very, very hard to get good employees,” said Kay. “We need people.”

The Stowers’ have even resorted to taking mechanically inclined people with no aircraft maintenance experience and training them.

Even the numerous layoffs in the aircraft industry in Wichita in recent years didn’t lead to more employees at ASIC.

To attract qualified applicants, the Stowers plan to buy some rental property, either single-family homes or apartments, that they could then house their workers. They plan to offer their employees three months free rent, half-rent for the next three months then six months at full rent, during which time the employee would have to obtain other housing, “So we can keep using it for new employees,” Kay said. “We have such a shortage of housing. You can’t expect people to come here and not have a place to live.”

Free trade zone

Dan Ohnesorge, airport manager, said Mickey Stowers is considering taking advantage of the foreign free trade zone that has been approved but has yet to be activated.

In free trade zones, businesses can import items into the free trade zone and delay paying duty on the merchandise.

“We have gone through the process of getting it approved,” said Ohnesorge. “That was about a two-year process. All we need is a business owner who wants to take advantage of the opportunity. It hasn’t happened yet, but Mickey Stowers is looking at it.”

Shifting focus

ASIC got its start in 1978 in the back of an old bank building in Pond Creek as Stowers Aircraft Corp. The company moved to Medford, Blackwell-Tonkawa Airport, back to Pond Creek and then, in 1984, to Berryville, Ark. The company began calling Enid home in 1992.

When the firm moved to Enid the company shifted its focus almost exclusively to the Caravan.

“The reason is we can be proficient at doing the same thing over and over,” Mickey said. “There’s no learning curve, you already know it.”

ASIC employees travel the world retrieving damaged Caravans, from Laos, to Alaska, to India, to Nigeria, to Fiji.

“They wreck an airplane, they call Cessna, Cessna says to call us,” said Kay.

ASIC has a contract to do all metal work for FedEx, which maintains a fleet of 250 Caravans. They also work for insurance adjusters and buy wrecked Caravans, which they repair and sell.

“We had one that flew into a mountain in Alaska,” Mickey said. “It’s flying back up there.”

Presently ASIC is working on Caravans from Chile, Peru and the U.S. Damaged aircraft normally are disassembled on site, crated up and shipped back to Enid, but occasionally they can be patched up and flown here.

The company also does modifications and enhancements of Caravans under supplemental type certificates granted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We’ve gotten three approved STCs,” said Kay.

Mickey and Kay married in 2000, and she became co-owner of the business. He handles sales and production management, while she handles finances and human resources.

“Everybody says, ‘You guys work together and then you’re home together, doesn’t that just drive you crazy,’” Kay said. “When we’re at work I hardly see him. He’s in his office doing his stuff, and I’m in mine.”