USFMS is in the process of being translated into several other languages.USFMS is in the process of being translated into several other languages.USFMS is in the process of being translated into several other languages.USFMS is in the process of being translated into several other languages.USFMS is in the process of being translated into several other languages.

Aviation Maintenance and Upgrades: Big Jets Visit Airport

2 MD-11 freighters arrive for modifications at local facility

By Bill Rufty
THE LEDGER
Published: Friday, October 24, 2014 at 12:22 a.m.

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RICK RUNION | THE LEDGER
AN MD-11 cargo plane comes in for a landing at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport on Thursday in Lakeland.

The plane joined another MD-11 freighter already at the airport for FAA certifications and upgrades.
LAKELAND | Lakeland Linder Regional Airport looked more like Lakeland International on Thursday, with two large McDonnell Douglas MD-11 air freighters parked on the tarmac.

Airport officials who have been seeking more business at the general aviation airport said they think the aircraft, which are being worked on by a local business, could bring more publicity and business to Lakeland Linder.

The airport handles large planes throughout the year, from touch-and-go practice by Coast Guard aircraft to large planes coming in for upgrades by one of the airport tenants.

During election years, candidates’ aircraft fly into the airport.

And these large planes, which stand taller than the terminal building, can only help arouse interest, airport officials said.

“Activity breeds activity,” said Nan Walsh, assistant director of the airport. “When a valuable tenant is able to bring in clients at this level, it helps everyone at the airport.”

The two aircraft, owned by Western Global Aviation of Sarasota, a relatively new air cargo company, were flown in for a stop at Florida Modification Specialists, a four-year tenant at the airport that upgrades, converts and modifies commercial carrier and cargo aircraft.

After the company is done with the planes, the Federal Aviation Administration standards office in Orlando will send inspectors to certify them for use.

Florida Modification is expanding to renovate wide-bodied jet aircraft, said Don Bruce, the company’s CEO. Right now, it has a total of six jets waiting outside what used to be a Piper Aircraft manufacturing hangar.

“We are working with the city to get an additional hangar that can accommodate the wide bodies,” Bruce said, nodding to one of the MD-11F planes parked next to the airport’s terminal. “When that happens, (likely around 2016), we could be adding up to 200 employees.”

John Graziano, Western Global’s vice president for technical operations, said Thursday that many aviation companies, including commercial airlines, are having maintenance work done in the U.S. because of lower costs and the higher quality of workmanship compared with having it done overseas.

“The climate in aviation is changing, and a lot of companies are having their work done back in this country,” Graziano said.

“Having a place to do maintenance without the cost of having to fly overseas was a key factor (in choosing Lakeland and Florida Modification).”

Pointing to a jet being worked on in the Florida Modification hangar, he said, “That company, Amerijet, had its maintenance and conversions done in Lima, Peru. This is Don’s (Don Bruce’s) first, and the company is moving its maintenance back to the U.S.”

FUEL, OTHER FEES

In addition to Bruce’s company being paid for its refurbishing work, Lakeland Linder itself receives ramp fees, landing fees and fuel charges, which total about $2,000 per plane for five planes, Walsh said. The aircraft will not be stationed in Lakeland, but it may be possible one day for the planes to return to deliver or pick up cargo, airport director Gene Conrad said.

With an Amazon.com warehouse nearby and manufacturers developing in the Lakeland area, he said, there may be options for the airport administration, which also is working to locate another commercial passenger airline here.

“This is part of our development program,” Conrad said. “We have ample property around the facility, and it would be perfect for cargo storage prior to shipping.”

He added that the airport now is capable of handing almost every large aircraft.

The MD-11F is a three-engine, wide-bodied jet airliner, manufactured by McDonnell Douglas and later by Boeing Commercial Airplanes when the two corporations merged.

Based on the DC-10, it features a stretched fuselage for more capacity.

Two of its engines are mounted on each wing, while the third engine is mounted on the tail.

Manufacture of the passenger version of the aircraft was discontinued in 1998, and the cargo version, like the ones now at Lakeland Linder, was discontinued in 2001.

But the aircraft remain popular among air freight companies, including FedEx, UPS, Lufthansa Air Cargo and others.

[ Bill Rufty can be reached at 802-7523 or bill.rufty@theledger.com. ]

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