Pandemic delays start for new business

COVID-19 impact temporarily grounds start by aircraft maintenance company at Griffiss

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The COVID-19 pandemic’s ripple effect has delayed the start of work by an aircraft maintenance and overhaul company coming to county-owned Griffiss International Airport in Rome, but its owner says he expects the first planes to arrive by early fall.

Strategic Global Aviation President and CEO John Hester told the Daily Sentinel this week that a Navy contract on which his company is a subcontractor was expected to be awarded in mid-February but got delayed about 90 days because of the pandemic.

“We were looking to be operational mid-may early June time frame but now we’re probably looking mid-august early September,” Hester said in a phone interview.

Hester’s company contracted with Oneida County in December to use former Air Force hangar space in Building 101 on Hangar Road at Griffiss to work on airplanes. The contract is for $1.96 million with an option to renew the agreement for an additional five years at a cost of $2,019,000.

It’s part of the county’s trying to make use of Griffiss, built as a U.S. Air Force base but which now serves as the county airport and no longer served by any scheduled commercial airline. Three air-craft maintenance companies have occupied space there but didn’t stay. Last year, the county contracted with a Syracuse firm to upgrade the utilities and related systems in a deal to be paid for with savings on heating costs. Mohawk Valley Community College’s aviation maintenance program also uses space there.

Hester formed the company after retiring from the Air Force. Strategic Global will work on an variety of planes, but its specialty is the C-130, the workhorse of military operations around the world for several decades.

The company is a subcontractor with Dayton T. Brown of Long Island and BAE Systems of Arlington, Virginia on projects upgrading the avionics of Navy planes, according to Hester. The upgrades consist of a new flight management system on the planes’ flight deck, new global positioning system and installing an automatic dependent surveillance broadcast system. It means an advanced flight deck in each plane, with all-glass instrumentation and advanced electronics and radios so that the aircraft position is known by air traffic control, according to Hester.

“Avionics upgrade that’s a big job,” Hester said. “You take the flight deck apart and you put it back together with the new system. … The Navy also wants us to do any general-level maintenance that they have since the aircraft is going to be on the ground for at least 9 months. It’s a very, very heavy effort on these avionics upgrades.”

So far, the company has hired 11 people from places such as Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Albany, Syracuse and Rome, and will bring on more as the first aircraft arrival nears, Hester said.

County legislators earlier this month approved adding some office-space work to the contract with C&S Operations, the company performing the energy upgrade, so Strategic Global can use the space.

In addition, the company and the county are working on a plan to move some state personal protective equipment now stored in a hangar bay used for painting planes to somewhere else. Strategic Global has committed financially to support a state grant to improve the paint bay so it can pass state and federal certification requirements, Hester said.

The company has resurfaced the floor in one hangar bay, which can handle three aircraft, and is negotiating the lease on another bay that can accommodate three planes at once, for six at a time.

“We just ordered our administrative furniture. We’re sending out equipment to be re-certified again that we’re going to use on the airplanes. We’re getting there. It’s an arduous effort, but by the time an airplane shows up for induction, we’ll be ready to accept.”

Hester credited county and airport management.

“They have bent over backwards to make us feel welcomed and have worked with us diligently to ensure SGA has what it needs to become successful here in Rome.”

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