Flying Colours marks 30 years with steady growth

Eric Gillespie stood on the road and pointed at the bustling construction site.

Eric Gillespie stands in the hangar at Flying Colours Corp. in Peterborough, Ont. The company's three locations are enjoying tremendous growth as the demand for aircraft completions, modifications, painting and maintenance services continues. Lisa Gordon Photo
Eric Gillespie stands in the hangar at Flying Colours Corp. in Peterborough, Ont. The company’s three locations are enjoying tremendous growth as the demand for aircraft completions, modifications, painting and maintenance services continues. Lisa Gordon Photo
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“That’s the new paint facility on the left. The right hangar will be additional maintenance, completion, and refurbishment space, mostly for large cabin aircraft, although it’s big enough to handle an (Airbus) A220 down the road. We’re definitely in growth mode.”

Gillespie, Flying Colours Corp.’s executive vice-president, surveyed the two new 50,000-square-foot hangars taking shape against the blue September sky.

Together, they represent a $25 million investment in the company’s Peterborough, Ont. campus, with the paint shop projected to open this October and the second hangar scheduled to be operational in mid-Q1 2020.

It’s a big year for the family-owned company that incorporated in 1989.

Back then, founder John Gillespie merged his small aircraft sales and painting ventures under the Flying Colours Corp. banner. He gradually added additional services, including maintenance, overhaul and interior completions.

Thirty years later, Gillespie remains at the helm of Flying Colours, although he’s been joined by sons Eric and Sean, as well as daughters Kate and Lisa.

The company offers a full spectrum of green aircraft completions as well as refurbishments, VIP conversions, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services, exterior paint and avionics, special mission installations and conversions. Flying Colours enjoys affiliations with such names as Bombardier, GE Aviation, Collins Aerospace, Gogo, Honeywell and Raisbeck Engineering.

Two 50,000-square-foot hangars are being built in Peterborough to handle aircraft painting and maintenance work. Together, they represent a $25 million investment in the company's Canadian headquarters. Lisa Gordon Photo
Two 50,000-square-foot hangars are being built in Peterborough to handle aircraft painting and maintenance work. Together, they represent a $25 million investment in the company’s Canadian headquarters. Lisa Gordon Photo

In total, the company now employs about 500 people in three locations. Besides the Peterborough headquarters, there is Flying Colours Corp. KSUS in St. Louis, Mo. – founded after the Canadian company acquired JetCorp Technical Services in 2009 – as well as Flying Colours Corp. PTE in Singapore, established in 2015.

Each site is expanding to meet growing customer demand.

In January, the St. Louis team moved into a new hangar that can accommodate up to three Global aircraft at once. A new manufacturing workshop preceded that development to support the demand for woodworking and business jet cabinetry.

Meanwhile, under the leadership of Paul Dunford, managing director of international operations, the Singapore branch now employs just over 20 people who specialize in wood refinishing, cabinetry and upholstery.

Flying Colours employee Sue Bolton installs a cover on the base of an aircraft seat. Much of the work done by the company's aircraft interiors division emphasizes hands-on craftmanship. Lisa Gordon Photo
Flying Colours employee Sue Bolton installs a cover on the base of an aircraft seat. Much of the work done by the company’s aircraft interiors division emphasizes hands-on craftmanship. Lisa Gordon Photo

While that location – housed within the Bombardier Singapore Service Centre – does not provide MRO services, Dunford said it has completed six full aircraft interior refurbishments to date, plus another half dozen partial jobs.

“Our original mission was light interior work and cosmetic repairs,” explained Dunford. “But there is a demand to grow our services and we’ve expanded to full interior refurbishments. Having that capability in-region is a huge asset for Bombardier, us and the end user.”

Dunford said he hopes to double the employee count in Singapore by the end of next year, as the company grows alongside Bombardier in the region.

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At the same time, Ian Ross, director of human resources in Peterborough, is on the hunt for 50 new hires to fill immediate job openings, primarily in aircraft completions. He and his team host open houses, attend trade shows, and visit college and trade school recruiting events.

“We’re trying to bring in people who fit the roles,” said Eric Gillespie. “There aren’t courses for the interiors side, so we evaluate whether you can do the work. A lot of it is then learned on the job.”

The St. Louis facility, which offers heavy maintenance services, CRJ 200 Execliner conversions, and ADS-B installations, is looking to hire about 25 people over the next year.

Company-wide, the average age of the workforce is 43 years old.

As the end of 2019 looms, Flying Colours can point to several big achievements this year, including the completion of its tenth Ka-band installation, as well as the completion and delivery of the first of six new multi-mission De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400s to Conair of Abbotsford, B.C.

Last but certainly not least, the company has been marking three successful decades in business through a series of employee events at each of its locations. The anniversary celebrations are set to continue at October’s National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas, Nev., where Flying Colours Corp. will once again be showcasing its products and services.

Building on John Gillespie’s values of “Integrity, Innovation and Flexibility,” Flying Colours continues to pride itself on delivering services through a robust suite of in-house capabilities.

It’s a formula that has paid dividends, and judging by the demand for its services, Flying Colours’ future looks bright as it begins its fourth decade of operations.

“Right now, we’ve got the throttle down in terms of building space to accommodate work,” said Gillespie. “We’re in a good position across the board at all three locations. Our biggest challenge now is managing the growth.”

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