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Company Airplane Connects MI Windows and Doors With the World
For thousands of small towns that stretch across America, business aviation is the transportation lifeline that enables those communities to remain competitive in the global economy. One such place is the central Pennsylvania town of Gratz (population 676), whose primary employer is MI Windows and Doors, Inc.
MI (formerly Metal Industries) Windows and Doors, which started fabricating window screens in a Florida airplane hangar in 1947, has grown to become a supplier to some of the nation's largest homebuilders. The company has prospered, thanks in part to a business model that relies on a company airplane (a Cessna Citation III) to link its Pennsylvania plants and headquarters, where 750 people work, with a series of dispersed manufacturing operations located in rural communities where windows and doors can be produced with a quality workforce.
Can't Get There From Here
Matt DeSoto, MI's executive vice president of eastern operations, said the company began flying a business aircraft in the early '90s for two reasons. First, although Gratz is just 35 miles from Harrisburg, MI's team members found that traveling by airline to other company facilities was not practical from a time-management perspective. Business aviation has made those trips much easier.
"It used to take a [full] day to travel," said DeSoto. "We now can be there in literally two hours. And the more we can be on site, the more value we can provide to our team members, and that value is passed on to our customers."
Second, the airplane has proven to be important to MI's marketing efforts. DeSoto said that business aviation is the best way to bring customers in to see our manufacturing operations and return them home in the same day. He also believes that customers who fly on the airplane understand that MI is an efficient company that respects the value of their time.
"Not only do we make it easy for them to get in to see our operation, they can see the type of company we are. Using the plane to bring folks in has conservatively resulted in an 80-percent success rate to do business with those customers. Their trust level increases; they see a lot more people [instead of just the salesperson] and the type of culture we've got – from the pilots and salespeople to the folks in manufacturing and engineering. It [the airplane] is a great tool to showcase what we are about."
In fact, customer/prospect travel is the top mission for MI's airplane, with trips to outlying plants by company people a close second. During a recent week, Chief Pilot Jim McMahon and Captain Patrick J. Quinton pre-positioned the Citation III in Omaha on Sunday night so they could transport a prospect back to Pennsylvania on Monday morning. They flew the customer back to Nebraska late Monday afternoon and returned to Pennsylvania Monday night. Tuesday morning they started a three-day trip that involved stops at MI plants in Salisbury, NC; Statesboro, GA; and Smyrna, TN, returning to Pennsylvania Thursday evening.
“ The company plane is utilized – and valued – by a variety of team members. ”
However, some of MI's most memorable flights have been those flown on behalf of Cessna's Special Olympics airlift. During the most recent national Special Olympics games, MI participated in the airlift, carrying three coaches and five athletes from Baltimore to Des Moines and bringing them back a week later. McMahon said: "It was the most humbling thing I ever did in my professional career."
A Must-Have Tool for Tough Times
As the housing market has cooled, the business climate has become more challenging for MI Windows and Doors. While some companies dispose of their airplane during tough times, DeSoto said his company takes the opposite approach. "The way we can increase profitability during a trough is to increase sales, use the airplane to do more tours, capitalize on sales opportunities and get more team members out to operations to make do with limited resources. The plane is not a tool we look to cut."
Indeed, the company plane is utilized – and valued – by a variety of team members. "Our aircraft is not used by executives only," said DeSoto. An executive vice president, CFO, a senior vice president, a factory manager, an accountant, an engineer and a quality control person were all aboard a recent flight. "Word has traveled through the various departments: This isn't a luxury; it's a tool to help us do business better."
Within the last year, McMahon has helped boost utilization by making it easier for airplane users to book a flight: they simply look up the schedule online and place a reservation. Trips are booked on a first-come, first-served basis, and team members who did not originally schedule the trip but have business to conduct at the same destination are encouraged to fill the remaining seats.
Whether the Citation is full or not, safety is always the first priority. "There is only one person aboard the airplane who makes the decision on whether we go or don't go, and that's the chief pilot," declared DeSoto. "We often have up to eight people aboard, so if safety was not our first priority, we would be making a very bad decision for the welfare of our company."
"If we can't do it safely, we are not going to do it," added McMahon. "The most important resource is our people, so safety is our top priority." McMahon and Quinton undergo recurrent training every six months, and the MI flight department has embraced the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), a set of best practices developed by the International Business Aviation Council.
An example of the company's commitment to safety is the "pilot flying, pilot monitoring" concept, which makes the second aviator just as responsible for flying the airplane as the one who has his hands on the yoke. Also, to avoid distractions during the initial phases of flight, MI pilots do not perform any administrative functions until after the cruise checklist is completed.
McMahon views NBAA as a partner in improving the safety and efficiency of his department. He often turns to Association publications and Air Mail to get answers to his questions. McMahon likes going to the NBAA Annual Meeting & Convention to see what new products and services are available and to attend the Maintenance & Operations Sessions. In the future, he hopes to participate in NBAA's Professional Development Program (PDP) and Certified Aviation Manager (CAM) Program.
“ Word has traveled through the various departments: This isn't a luxury; it's a tool to help us do business better. ”
Extending the Reach of the Company
McMahon says that all the employees who fly on the Citation appreciate the fact that they can travel, get a full day of work done and return home at a decent hour. But DeSoto notes that there are other, harder-to-quantify advantages of using business aviation. "If faced with a 16-hour day when traveling by airline, how many trips would not be made if we did not have our own plane?" he asked rhetorically. "With no distractions onboard, we have some of our best internal discussions on the airplane," he added. "Whenever we leave a plant, our minds are full of things we saw that day," and team members on the return flight often discuss issues that need to be addressed. "We could not do that on an airline flight."
MI, which flies its Citation about 400 hours per year, will consider adding another aircraft as the company strives to expand its reach. Either way, this small-town company will be doing big things with the help of business aviation.
MI Windows and Doors Operating at the Highest Level of Safety and Professionalism
The International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) – developed by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and its member associations, including NBAA – outlines best practices designed to help flight departments worldwide achieve high levels of safety and professionalism.
IBAC introduced the IS-BAO program for many reasons. In many business sectors, international standards are recognized for their role in facilitating global commerce. IS-BAO is similar in this respect as its fundamental purpose is to foster safe and highly professional aircraft operations. While IS-BAO is a voluntary set of practices, flight departments can gain considerable benefits by advising their boards of directors, regulators and insurance companies of compliance to the international standard.
MI Windows and Doors is an IS-BAO-registered operator, which means that it has demonstrated compliance to a recognized international set of practices, and has been awarded an IS-BAO Certificate of Registration. NBAA congratulates MI Windows and Doors on its voluntary compliance with IS-BAO, and encourages all Operating Members to consider working toward compliance. Learn more at www.ibac.org/isbao.php.