MAG receives FAA certification to do advance maintenance, customization on AW139 helicopters

August 11, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • From left, Darrell Condry, chief inspector at Mecaer Aviation Group Inc. (MAG, Inc.), Andrew Lewis, director of Maintenance and technician Donald Wright work on packing emergency floats for an Agusta Westland 139 helicopter at the Hagerstown facility Wednesday.
By Colleen McGrath / Staff Photographer

An aviation maintenance and customization company that opened near Hagerstown Regional Airport just over a year ago has received FAA certification  that will allow it to pursue more work and hire more employees, according to the firm’s president.

The certification is MAG’s “ticket on the bus,” and “gets us legitimately moving forward,” said Ed Pears, president of MAG Inc.’s U.S. operations in Philadelphia and north of Hagerstown.

MAG is a subsidiary of Mecaer Aviation Group, which is based in Borgomanero in northern Italy.

“It’s certainly going to mean positive things for the county and hopefully for some of our citizens who will be able to obtain those jobs,” Washington County Board of County Commissioners President Terry Baker said.

MAG received FAA certification on Aug. 6 that permits the company to do advance maintenance and customization on AW139 helicopters, an AgustaWestland model that is used by emergency service officials and private customers, Pears said.

He said he expects the Hagerstown-area operation to have about 20 employees in a year.

The local MAG operation now has six full-time employees and one part-time worker, company officials said.

County officials announced in July 2012 that MAG would receive $100,000 in incentives to start its local operation.

The company will receive $20,000 a year for five years, and in exchange, MAG must have at least 18 full-time employees a year for five years with at least an annual average salary of $50,000.

Pears said the company received its first $20,000 incentive, for training costs, for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

County spokesman James Jenkins said that as part of the incentive agreement MAG must submit a certificate of job continuity form to the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission by Sept. 1 that outlines the positions the company has filled.

Since MAG just got its FAA certificate, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for the company to get an extension regarding the minimum 18 employees, Jenkins said.

In the long term, Pears said he sees MAG expanding its local operation beyond the approximately 16,000-square-foot hanger it has been leasing since June 2012 on Air Park Road in Hagerstown Regional Airport’s Aviation Technology Park.

The Philadelphia operation, which is slightly different, started about seven years ago and has grown from 13 to 45 workers in the past four years, Pears said.

That site started doing maintenance work within the last two years, he said.

The Hagerstown-area operation’s market has about a 300-mile radius and includes Baltimore and Washington, D.C., an area in which there are many helicopters in use, Pears said.

There is usually a consistent demand for helicopter maintenance, Pears said. Even during the recession, when helicopter use fell off, there was sufficient business for most companies to survive, he said.

Work at the Hagerstown-area operation began in December with workers inspecting pop-out emergency floats for helicopters for several companies and doing some general maintenance for a privately-owned, light utility helicopter, company officials said.

Now that MAG has the FAA certification for AW139s, it can pursue private and public jobs, such as maintenance for Maryland State Police’s new fleet of 10 AW139 medevac helicopters, Pears said.

The state has not issued information for maintenance bids on the new fleet yet so MAG officials are waiting to see if what the state police wants matches what the company offers, Pears said.

MAG’s Philadelphia operation does maintenance on AW139s used by the New Jersey State Police and the Province of Ontario, Canada, he said.

The AW139 is a 12,500-pound helicopter with two engines and can seat up to 16 people, said Andy Lewis, maintenance director for the Hagerstown-area operation.

The model is used for medevac and law-enforcement purposes, as well as by private owners for VIPs, company officials said.

“For me, it’s a very dramatic business,” Pears said.

The types of helicopters MAG maintains includes those used by company officials to get from the office to their home, beach house, or yacht, he said.

They also can be used to get oil-field workers to offshore oil rigs, or for police to conduct surveillance, he said.

One-stop solution

Among the jobs MAG will now be able to tackle are customizing the helicopters’ cabins, including digitizing flight-control panels and installing medical equipment or creature comforts for VIPs, company officials said.

MAG also can now do comprehensive maintenance and inspections on AW139s, including the rotor system, engines, landing gear, flight navigation equipment, and safety and convenience systems, Lewis said.

The company cannot yet do engine-overhaul work, company officials said.

Eventually, the shop will be a one-stop solution for its customers, Pears said.

Although it’s been more than a year since county officials announced MAG would be starting a local operation, Bill Condry, MAG’s chief inspector, said the process to get the FAA certificate went relatively quickly.

Condry — who was a Huey helicopter crew chief during the Vietnam War and whose last job was helicopter inspector for Maryland State Police — said he was hired in October.

It was his job to write the training manual needed for the FAA certificate, including explaining how workers’ skills would be kept up to date, he said.

Now that MAG has its repair station certificate for the AW139s, Condry said he probably will start work this week on seeking approval for MAG to do maintenance for other helicopter models, including the smaller AW109s and AW119s.

Aviation legacy

MAG chose to start a Hagerstown-area operation because of the region’s legacy of aviation manufacturing and maintenance, the location with the interstate highways nearby, and the welcoming atmosphere, Pears said.

Another draw to the area was the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, or PIA, which has a campus near the airport for training aircraft mechanics and technicians, Pears said.

Maintenance director Lewis is a graduate of PIA’s Pittsburgh campus. The Hagerstown-area MAG operation hired two recent graduates of the local PIA program — technicians Dustin Long and Donnie Wright.

Wright, who grew up in Hagerstown, said he’s doing the same kind of maintenance work he did on helicopters when he was in the Army, serving in the U.S. and Iraq. Wright said he was a crew chief for a Black Hawk helicopter.

Wright said helicopters are their “own beast” with a lot of moving parts.

“I’m happy. This is the kind of work I want to do,” Wright said.

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