When Shane O’Neill walks on to the hangar floor, he greets almost every one of his work colleagues by their first name.
It’s nothing new in business but, seeing it first hand, you know that there is a connection that carries mutual respect.
As chief executive of Atlantic Aviation Group (AAG), he is all about the people who are responsible for the maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft worth millions of euro.
AAG was created when the maintenance arm of Transaero was put into examinership and Irish businessman Patrick Jordan bought the company in 2015.
Throughout its 60 year history, it was the expertise of the workforce that became the firm’s biggest asset.
Shane O’Neill knew that retaining the technical competence would allow the fledgeling company to develop and grow.
He believes that continuing education and always looking for new opportunities is vital in any area of economic activity.
“The area I started off working in, is not what I am doing today. My initial qualifications were in electronics but I’m far removed from electronics now. I’m actually colour blind so I wouldn’t let myself next nor near a circuit board in the morning. But always leave yourself open for an opportunity.”
“It’s much the same in a business context. AAG now stands on its own merits with no big brother or no big sister to cut the cheque if we get into difficulty, so the only way we’re going to succeed is through the expertise of the people we have here.
“We are very fortunate that there is a great group here and we have brought in some outside people to enhance the existing technical and business competence that we have”.
Part of that development included setting up three extra entities to operate alongside the company’s maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operation.
“Patrick Jordan is a very good businessman and one of the things he brought to the business was a level of ambition.
“The organisation is essentially a maintenance business for Boeing aircraft but that doesn’t mean we can’t think long-term and create new opportunities.
“We set up a training Institute so that we can train the future generations of technicians.
“There were over 3,000 expressions of interest when we advertised aircraft mechanic apprenticeships last year. 400 completed aptitude tests before the number was whittled down to 90 for interview. 15 were then chosen to join the four-year programme.
“We also set up a design Institute that will take a request from an airline or lessor to make modifications on the aircraft. We run the design, specify the materials and then sell that approved design back to the customer.
The fourth stream to the business offers airlines technical experts who will advise on the level of maintenance that has to be done to the aircraft to ensure airworthiness at all times through our Continuing Airworthiness Management Organisation.
“It is nice to have this combination of services coupled with our strong customer focus as our USP and our customers are happy with it. They see 250 people with huge amount of knowledge and they want to tap into that.”
“From a market outlook perspective, we are very confident that our plans are very achievable and that the industry is in a good place despite the threats of Brexit and rising oil prices.
“If we have good people we can develop a strategy, execute it and deliver cash that allows reinvestment back into the business to help us grow.
“We have our own ideas about where the market is going, but we constantly seek our customers input to understand their needs. With the right people on board, they will create the solutions for what is needed and meet our customers expectations. It’s simple but effective.”
The perception of the Mid West on the international stage is also important.
“Reputation is key, as well as being able to offer quality of life. Looking at it from a work life balance, this is where we have an edge when we are recruiting together with the career development opportunities we provide our people.
“I got the opportunity to come back to the west and I jumped at it when AAG called. From a family perspective, from a quality-of-life perspective, a lack of congestion, facilities and amenities, I’m where I want to be.
“The market is very very tight for resources and our HR and recruitment team is travelling regularly to try and recruit.
“One of the tactics that they are using is to showcase the quality of life that the Mid West offers. It has worked and we have attracted people from Dublin and abroad.
“Since we came in to the business in 2015, we have been able to give them some personal and career development support and opportunities within the business. They have started coming through the ranks and are now in positions where they are leading. I was given those opportunities in my career and now I am reaping the benefit of that approach.
“From a customer perspective, it is great to be able to stand in front of them and say that we will deliver because the team stands behind me, set up, tooled up in the mentality and frame of mind to do just that.”