Orange County Business Journal

Clear for Take Off

Costa Mesa Aircraft Service Firm Gains on Mergers Jane Yu Saturday, March 24, 2012

A makeover typically involves stripping old paint, sanding surfaces and applying paint schemes over the body, tails and wings, which requires attention to intricate details of designs.

It can cost between $100,000 and $200,000 to paint a wide-body jet of the sort featuring twin passenger aisles, such as the Boeing 767. A narrow-body plane with a single passenger aisle, such as the Airbus A319, costs about $50,000.

Leading Edge repainted 400 planes of Egan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines after it was sold to Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. in 2008 and also did some work for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. last year. The company is awaiting word on whether it will get a piece of the business that’s expected to follow Southwest’s ongoing merger with Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran Airways.

Other major customers include Louisville, Ky.-based UPS Airlines, a cargo fleet owned by United Parcel Service Inc.; Air Canada in Quebec, Canada; and Mumbai, India-based Air India.

The company also has a contract to apply final coating on 787 Dreamliners built in South Carolina by Chicago-based Boeing. The first Dreamliner is expected to hit Leading Edge’s new Fort Worth facility hangar in coming months.

The company secured a 20-year lease on a 69,490-square-foot facility in Fort Worth last August. The site is expected to have 150 employees at full production, with Leading Edge aiming to paint seven planes a month.

Touch Ups

Airplanes generally need to be retouched every five years, and that provides a regular flow of additional work for the company, Manclark said.

“Airlines have to be on an aggressive schedule to keep track,” he said.

Leading Edge also does aircraft-interior modifications such as work on carpets, fabrics, seatback covers, countertops and lavatories. It also has offers mobile painting services for individual airplanes.

The company continues to grow.

“We’re expanding into the military market,” Manclark said. “And we’re short-handed even with 1,350 people.”

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