Action Aero in Charlottetown specializes in the overhaul and repair of fuel, oil, and air-related engine accessories.
“When COVID-19 hit, we continued to operate, but for six weeks we moved our staff to two shifts,” says Dave Trainor, President. “Half came in during the day, there was a half hour for cleaning and sanitizing, and then the evening shift came in.
“That gave us time to put in place more stringent measures. We rearranged the shop floor to allow for social distancing and sanitizing and then moved back to working the same shift. The biggest adjustment was working around schedules and trying to keep everyone safe.
“Trying to get PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is a challenge. We have been told we can’t get extra large gloves, because there is a shortage. We can’t expect any until next year! How do you plan for that? Even though we are used to the new normal, there are still challenges every week.”
“Prior to COVID-19, we had zero capability to work remotely. We had to amend some things very quickly. The shop floor technicians are normally in the shop taking stuff apart. The work dropped off significantly and very quickly, so how do you keep all these people busy? We were able to adapt some training programs and put them online. To assist with social distancing, some people worked from home certain days of the week, doing development and training online. Going forward, we will continue to do that.
“Before COVID-19 hit we had done some six-sigma training. With the work volume being down significantly, it gave us time to take what we learned and implement some projects very quickly. With these new processes and improvements in place, we will be much better positioned whenever clients come back. We will be able to handle things much more efficiently and handle much more volume with the same number of people.
“The biggest thing that has changed in our workplace is the health and safety practices we have put into place. Sanitizing is happening regularly and frequently, and I think that will continue for a long time.”
Looking into the future
“Hopefully the general public’s fears will subside, and more people will start to travel again. Planes have to fly in order for things to turn positive for us.”
Dave believes the aviation industry in general will probably take three to five years to recover. “It will take time for consumer confidence to come back and for people to fly as much as they did before. Action Aero is not in the commercial airline business but deals more with regional turboprop customers, and we are very diversified. We have customers in agriculture and firefighting as well.
“Since COVID-19 started, we have been looking at a few new product lines to try to diversify more. As we get those capabilities up and running and generate some revenue, we know it might take two to three years to get back to where we were in 2019.
“We need to get everybody motivated and starting on new product lines and focused on customers. Our competition is trying to take our customers. By focusing on what customers want, price, and product delivery and quality, we can be the best in the world, and our recovery should be shorter than our competitors.”
The Atlantic Canada advantage
“The province of PEI has done a great job of getting things under control very quickly. One of the advantages to being located in eastern Canada is the flexibility of the workforce. Overnight, things had to change quickly, and there was no pushback. They wanted to know what they could do to adapt and change.
“I talk to people all over the world, and I don’t think other companies would be able to convince their workforce to come onside that quickly to make sure everyone survives. It goes back to the people and their work ethic and flexibility.”
Education and training needed
“In general, as companies come up against skill set gaps of their employees, we have found it difficult to get education institutions to develop training for our needs. They are businesses as well, and to develop a one-off course can be cost prohibitive.
“We would love to have a local or regional place for specific training. If we could get together as a region, identify a skill gap, and then partner with education institutions in the region to send more people, it may make more sense to offer that course.”
Engaging the workforce
“Communication is key to keep employees engaged. We need to keep our employees focused on customer expectations. Now that we are not as busy, it is time to focus on process improvements. That will keep the workforce engaged so that we can be the best we can be. There is no easy solution.”
Advice about considering a career in Aerospace
“As you enter the workforce, you need to be adaptive,” says Dave. “If you usually sit at a computer, you need to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.
“Don’t think you are hired to do just one job. You need to be very flexible and willing to do tasks you don’t have any experience with and put all your brain power and effort into it.
“We succeed as a team, and when you collaborate with people of different backgrounds, you can come up with a solution.”
For more about Action Aero, visit www.actionaero.com