Duncan Aviation: A Campus Is Born

Duncan Aviation New Hangar Lincoln NebraskaIt was the summer of 1999 and I was enjoying my new career as a corporate pilot in a Falcon 10. One early summer morning on a red-eye flight from Long Beach, California to the Midwest, the owner of the aircraft tapped us on the shoulder and said, “let’s divert to Lincoln to check the status on our 20.” The Falcon 20 was a new addition to our fleet and was undergoing an upgrade to its engines and interior. Keep in mind, this was a surprise visit to the headquarters of Duncan Aviation at 2:30 in the morning…….They didn’t miss a beat.

15 years have gone by since I was first introduced to Duncan Aviation. From that time, they have positioned themselves not only as the largest family-owned MRO in the world but they have also positioned themselves as one of best. Even during the Great Recession, Duncan’s reputation triggered continuous growth with additional facilities and offices throughout the country. Today, Duncan has major operations in Lincoln, NE, Provo, UT, and Battle Creek, MI. In addition, there exist 27 other locations across the country to assist aircraft owners/operators with their aircraft needs.

Duncan’s success has resulted in the need for more physical space as a new paint booth and maintenance hangar built in 2000 and 2005, respectively, are beyond capacity. Therefore, the decision was made to build another facility at the Lincoln Airport. During my interview with Todd Duncan, Duncan’s Chairman since 2007, he stated, “The main driver was the change in the market to larger aircraft.” Although their customer base is growing, the introduction of aircraft such as the Gulfstream 650 and Bombardier’s Global Express simply calls for larger facilities.

Since 1999, Duncan has partnered with Tectonic Management Group for the design and construction of their facility needs. And again, Tectonic would receive the call for their latest project. I met the President of Tectonic, Mark Stromberg, AIA, and Executive Vice President, Kevin Larsen, Architect, at last year’s NBAA meeting in Las Vegas and have been able to witness the completion of Duncan’s new facility in real-time.

The project was an ambitious one as it would directly affect, not only Duncan, but many airport tenants and the Lincoln Airport itself. The effort would give Tectonic, Duncan Aviation, the airport tenants, and the airport authority the opportunity to communicate and collaborate together in a synergistic way. From a case study point of view, this is one where other airports should pay close attention, as it was a win, win, win for Duncan, the airport authority, and a group of T-hangar tenants.

An in-depth assessment would reveal the need for a facility that would yield 80,000 square feet of hangar space (two hangars each 200’ x 200’), 66,457 square feet of storage and tool space, and an additional 30,000 square feet of office space all nestled within 17.75 acres of land.

The plot of land selected for the development was already home to a T-hangar complex where each row measured 265’ long by 60’ wide. The airport owned the hangars and each unit within had lease agreements in place that would have to be renegotiated. This was no small task but a solution was found.

Acting also as a client for the airport, Tectonic was able to physically move the existing structure to another point on the airport, make further structural improvements to the T-hangar facility, and construct additional units. This, combined with new lease incentives through the airport, created a win-win-win. Stromberg commented that “Hangar tenants got a better product, the airport got a better master plan, and Duncan got a consolidated campus.” Stromberg then followed up with “It was kind of interesting to see a 265’ x 60’ T-hangar up on wheels driving down the ramp.”

Concurrent with site selection and land re-development, efforts were underway by Duncan and Tectonic to determine how to maximize the utility of the facility. Stromberg stated, “Duncan Aviation is employee-centric and employee focused” and that “Not everyone takes that approach.” This unique trait is one of the company’s pillars of strength and allows them to empower their employees and solicit ideas and recommendations.

Tectonic was given carte blanche access to all the employee groups to gain input on everything from location and number of hangar pits, lighting, window placement, heating, tool storage, inventory, aircraft part management, workflows, ground support equipment, and techniques/best practices related to aircraft movement. Direct input from all the employees would help shape the entire facility from the ground up.

The employee-centric model greatly assisted the incorporation of Daylight Harvesting, radiant floor heat, Hangar Pits, number and location of hangar doors, and the hangar’s polymer coated floor.

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Duncan Aviation Completed Hangar

Daylight Harvesting

Daylight harvesting is a marriage of technology and common sense. Translucent wall panels and 144 prismatic skylights in the ceiling, designed by VP Buildings, flood the hangar with natural light. As the name of the system implies, the system harvests and utilizes as much natural light as possible. A smart control system, coupled with strategically placed sensors, modulates the intensity of the high-bay LED fixtures as necessary to ensure optimum lighting levels are met throughout the daytime and evening hours or during periods of heavy cloud cover.

Radiant Floor Heat

Radiant floor heat is quickly becoming the status quo for all new hangar construction in the northern latitudes. Duncan’s Michigan facility, constructed in 2005, has the system installed and the new Lincoln facility would follow suit.

Fluid Design Solutions of Ohio designed the entire system. The hangar features two radiant systems: one is for heating the facility and the other is for melting snow on the apron. Pairs of high turndown boilers run both systems. This feature permits the burner within the units to run steadily at lower intensity but longer periods eliminating high frequency on-off burner cycles. This reduces energy costs, eliminates waste, and extends component lifecycle.

Careful planning went into the design of the concrete slab and foundation in order to prevent heat loss to the outside of the structure. Rigid foam insulation was placed on the exterior side of the foundation both above and below grade, which helps contain the heat within the slab.

One other major efficiency gained through Fluid Design Solutions was that the entire boiler plant and primary distribution manifold was assembled off-site. Minimal fieldwork was necessary when the components arrived on the jobsite and equated to a near plug-and-play scenario.

Hangar Pits

Within the hangar, Hangar Pits were strategically co-located with aircraft workstations. These pits greatly enhance the workspace by serving as a hub for multiple ports supplying pneumatic and electrical needs and providing grounding access for the aircraft. The installation of such pits minimizes the need for large tools, accessories, and excessive cables and hoses from cluttering the floor. They greatly assist in workflows and reduce the number of physical impediments when aircraft movements are required. Whether in use or not, the pit’s closed lid is flush with the hangar floor where knockouts within the lid allow cables and hoses to pass through to the aircraft and technicians.

Hangar Doors

Another element that was integrated into the hangar to assist in aircraft workflows was the installation of hangar doors in the front and back of the structure. Traditional hangars require plenty of planning when stacking aircraft inside the work area. Even with the best planning, a considerable amount of time and energy can be wasted when repositioning or restacking aircraft. However, the installation of a second door in the back of the building partially eliminates the logistics of un-stacking aircraft and increases aircraft movement efficiencies by 80% per Tectonic’s analysis. Being able to exercise both inventory practices of LIFO and FIFO, Last-IN-First-Out and First-In-First-Out, respectively, is the best of both worlds.

The doors, manufactured by Door Engineering, are bottom rolling leaf doors that can be opened and closed in various configurations. Door Engineering markets this door as the “Smart Rail” system as it gives the operator complete authority on how to best manage the door. Panels can be moved all to the left, all to the right, and can be opened from the middle. Another major offering of the “Smart Rail” system is that pockets on either end of the hangar are not required saving considerable construction and material costs.

Floor Coatings

One of the most noticeable features of any hangar is the finish of the floor. Tectonic contracted with Sean Walsh of Protective Industrial Polymers (PIP) to install floor coatings for past Duncan projects outside of Lincoln and word from those facility managers spread back to Lincoln to continue with the PIP line of floor coatings for the new facility.

Up until PIP, Duncan was averaging two to five years of life in their floor coatings. PIP spent much time educating Duncan Aviation in their product line, the installation, how to care for the floor, and what sets Protective Industrial Polymers apart from the rest. PIP anticipates a lifespan of over 10 years and when time does come to redo the floor, only the topcoat will need to be replaced requiring only two days to perform the task.

More importantly, PIP understood that shutting down a hangar for a week every two to five years to replace or rehab a hangar floor coating was not acceptable to PIP, Duncan Aviation, or Duncan’s customers. During my conversation with PIP’s Midwest sales manager, Arlie Newberg, he pointed out a crucial consideration. He said, “It’s not he cost of the floor, it’s the cost of the shutdown.” Poor quality floors that are hastily installed which need to be completely redone in just two to five years may cost a lot in materials and labor. But the real financial cost that many fail to consider, as Newberg pointed out, is the cost of a hangar at idle.

Standout Features

Having the right tool for the job is imperative. Therefore a bridge crane system was installed to assist in replacing aircraft engines or handling other large, heavy, and/or bulky items. The design of the crane permits nearly 100% coverage of the hangar floor. In addition to the bridge crane, the ceiling plays host to a fall protection system that also permits near 100% coverage of the facility. On the ground, windows at eye level yield views to the great outdoors and activity on the ramp. Finally, the facility was built with future expansion in mind and will eventually incorporate additional sales and aircraft interior design offices.

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LINCOLN, NEB - 8/13/2014 - H Hangar on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2014. TED KIRK/New Shoes Productions, LLC

Accountability, Collaboration, & Communication

Projects of any size require attention to detail along with short-term and long-term goals to help measure the rate and quality of progress. During my conversations with Todd Duncan, Tectonic, and Protective Industrial Polymers, I was quick to learn that every one of these groups and all the other subcontractors read the fine print and methodically executed their tasks.

Tectonic was able to drive the pace of progress and they did so while documenting and reporting every phase of construction. They would routinely summarize the accomplishments of each phase in a written report that would not only summarize their phase accomplishments but also outline the major tasks to be accomplished in the next phase of construction. These summaries helped build more trust and further strengthened Tectonic’s relationship with Duncan Aviation and their subcontractors.

The Unsung Hero

One participant that can’t be overlooked is that of Lincoln Airport. An unfortunate number of airports around the country don’t seem to grasp the importance, don’t care, or don’t have the business skill-set required to embrace a project such as this. On the contrary, Stromberg stated that the “airport was a strong partner in this effort.” Lincoln’s Executive Director, John Wood who recently retired, said he and the airport had “done what we can to consolidate growth” of Duncan Aviation by ensuring their campus was centrally located within one area of the airport.

The greatest factor affecting the project was planning that took place by the airport authority decades before the project began. This planning permitted the relocation of the T-hangars with relative ease and little in the way of site improvement costs as the vacant land on the north end of the airport was already improved. If the land had not already been improved, the project could have taken an additional 12-18 months with a much larger price tag. In the end, the Duncan project came in on schedule and under budget. Lincoln Airport’s new Executive Director, Dave Haring, said “Duncan Aviation is a tremendous asset to the airport and to the surrounding community.”

With the project now complete, it serves as a perfect case study that demonstrates how strong communication and collaboration can yield a win, win, win for all parties involved.