August 1, 2006

Some specialized tools help Manitoba, a family-owned metals recycling company in Lancaster, NY, stay competitive.

On a recent tour of the company’s facilities, president Richard Shine proudly displayed several implements – a unique crane, a second machine that houses a “chopping line” and a metal scanner – all of which help Manitoba process more scrap types into more end products with a greater level of purity than many other recyclers can.

Shine’s list of must-have business tools includes another asset located at nearby Niagara Falls Airport: a Mitsubishi MU-2 Solitaire.”My ability to fly an airplane is what has helped us survive,” Shine says.

Shine needs an airplane because the host of Western New York manufacturers that provided so much of the scrap metal to Manitoba a generation ago have disappeared. Shine says,”Back in 1970, our company had 20 plants in the Buffalo area that provided scrap for our business. Today, we have one. The scrap has dried up; it’s disappeared.”

Looking to New Horizons

That’s where business aviation comes in. Manitoba’s aircraft has helped the company expand its boundaries for doing business, thereby increasing its supply base.” From the time Manitoba was founded in 1916 until 1971, our business was only conducted within 40 miles of our plant,” Shine explained.

When Shine joined Manitoba in 1970, he had a solid understanding of aircraft operations and how aviation could help the company. He had flown for six years on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, then started flying for the local reserve unit in Niagara Falls. Shine also held a halfinterest in a Beech Debonair.

“With business aircraft, we could expand our operations beyond the local area,” Shine recalls. Within his first year at Manitoba, Shine convinced his father, then the company’s president, to put the Debonair to work for the business.

Shine and a partner flew to Massena, NY, to find new suppliers, and that trip established business aviation as a key component in Manitoba’s company strategy.

“When we first started doing business in other places, we would start at 6:00 a.m., and we’d be at somebody’s desk by 8:30. We’d spend time with him, and maybe try to make a second call in that same city. Over the lunch hour, we’d fly to another city. We’d make one or two calls there, and sometimes even have dinner on the way home with another customer. We’d get home at 10:00 p.m.

“We covered a lot of ground,” Shine says. “We were able to see a lot of people; we didn’t land every account, but we did get enough of them, and we survived.”

Within two years of their first business flight, Shine and his partner acquired a Piper Aztec. Over the next few years, Shine utilized a half-dozen different twin Cessnas before purchasing the company’s first MU-2K in 1981. “We’d just opened a new, second operation in St. Louis, and the aircraft gave us access to that office, and an entrée into the Midwest,” Shine says.

A recession that year caused productivity dips among Manitoba’s suppliers, which led Shine to sell the MU-2 in 1982, a decision he now regrets.

“The business climate forced us to get rid of the airplane like so many companies do when they economize,” Shine says. “But maybe it would have been smarter to make more trips, to have tried to go out and find more business.”

Fortunately, the loss of Manitoba’s airplane did not prevent Shine from keeping his flying skills sharp – his tenure with the reserve unit was now passing into its second decade.

So when Manitoba began to grow after three years of struggle, Shine was again ready to incorporate business aircraft into the company’s operations. In 1985, he acquired a Cessna 421. Ten years later, he replaced that with another Solitaire.

At the same time, he looked for a resource that could help businesspeople who operate their own aircraft. His search took him to the National Business Aviation Association.

New Aircraft, New Resources Needed

“I knew of NBAA back in my early days in business,” Shine recalls. “But, I was flying pistonengine airplanes and I didn’t feel that NBAA represented my interests.That was a perception, obviously, more than a reality – if you take NBAA’s Membership Directory and leaf through it, you see all kinds of businesses, even single-engine piston operators that are Members.

“Anyway, in 1995, when we bought the second Solitaire, I thought, ‘I really should be a Member of NBAA.'”

Joining NBAA was a good decision for Shine.”The dues are well worth the price of admission for the lobbying services you get, especially today. There’s much more of a threat to the way we do business – because of proposals on user fees, taxes and other issues – than there was 25 years ago.”

NBAA also has been an operational resource for Shine. When asked to speak at a meeting of MU-2 owners last year, Shine wanted to help other owners establish a list of operational best practices. He decided to discuss his own operations manual.

“Most of the people who fly this [type of] airplane don’t think about what you’re supposed to do if you’re inside the outer marker and all of a sudden the glide slope fails,” Shine says. “An operations manual can help you plan for that kind of situation.”

“There’s much more of a threat to the way we do business — because of proposals on user fees, taxes and other issues — than there was 25 years ago.”

For source material to support his manual, Shine tapped his more than 20 years of military experience (concluding his reserve career as a colonel). Shine also turned to NBAA’s generic ops manual for information and a template for his own product.

“[My] document has a disclaimer stating that regulations take precedence, and there are certain things that are specific to MU-2 operators,” Shine says. “But in general, it’s suitable for any owneroperator. If even one person flies using these procedures, it could prevent an accident.”

Looking to the Future

Despite the challenges facing his company and business aviation, Shine is optimistic about the future.

“Our aircraft has allowed us to go outside our region and generate the product we need to stay in business. We’re able to make quick trips, see the right people, and yet be back to mind the store.That’s been the secret of our success, and I’m confident it will continue to be so.”

Does Manitoba still need NBAA? “NBAA will always be of value to me. I think there are going to be more smaller companies like ours getting into business aviation, and joining NBAA. For guys like me, anything that can be done to offer educational programs, training resources and other Member services and benefits will be well worth it.”