Airport opportunities: Hangar market has own unique requirements

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There is nothing especially unusual about the latest hangar construction project at the J. Lynn Helms Sevier County Airport in De Queen, Arkansas — except that aircraft hangars have, by their very nature, unique requirements.

 J. Lynn Helms Sevier County Airport

Erect A Tube photo

“Hangars are really door systems with a roof attached,” explains Jon Howell, vice president of sales and marketing for Erect-A-Tube Inc. Based in Harvard, Ill., the metal building manufacturer aided the airport authority’s engineer on the project design and then furnished the building package to the erecting contractor. “With a hangar you’ve got one, two, or three walls that move. So the building must be able to support the load of those hangar doors, even when they’re moving at the same time.”

Vice president Boyce Smith of Dayco Construction in Damascus, Ark., affirms that the “basic purpose of a hangar is for the airplane to get in, have enough room to turn around and get back out.” That being the case, he continues, “At least one entire wall is a door, so that the building system must carry the weight of the door.”

Erect A Tube hangar

Erect A Tube photo

Dayco bid on the Sevier County Airport project last spring, was awarded the contract by summer, and completed construction in October. Smith’s observation about the door is clear from the specs of the hangar. Designed to accommodate three agricultural spray aircraft, the 70’ x 100’ building features an 80’ x 18’ bi-fold door.

Though aircraft hangars have some unique design elements, Smith believes they can be erected by most rural builders who have experience with metal buildings. Further, he suggests the general aviation construction market is worth following. For its part, Dayco scans local newspapers and subscribes to Dodge Reports and Construction Datafax for leads on public projects being put out for bid.

Founded a dozen years ago as a metal builder, Dayco has expanded into other types of construction but has served the general aviation market from the start. “The market was stronger before the recession, then tailed off and remains in a lull,” Smith reports. “It’s a hit-and-miss market because you can get several hangar projects all at once and then not again for awhile. But in today’s economy, being diverse helps you bring in projects that can keep your operation going. For a metal builder, general aviation is another market you can pursue.”

Serving that market is simplified by the facts that “there are only a few metal building manufacturers who specialize in airplane hangars,” reports Smith, “and that, as the contractor, you’re following specs that are already laid out in the bid documents.” In the case of the Sevier County Airport project, because Erect-A-Tube had helped the authority’s engineer develop the specifications Dayco’s choice of supplier came down to a handful of manufacturers.

Erect-A-Tube specializes in manufacturing general aviation hangars, one of only a few companies to do so, and ships product throughout North America. As such, Howell can offer a broad perspective on the outlook for the general aviation construction market.

“First,” Howell explains, “you need to understand that ‘general aviation’ refers to single-engine and small aircraft. Second, there are two sides to the general aviation market. One is the bid market for public projects like the Sevier County Airport. The other is the product market for privately-owned hangars.”

The latter market can take many forms. Private air parks, for example, are often family-run enterprises whose owners rent out hangar space to private pilots. At some parks, hangars may be sold to pilots on a condominium basis. Some air park owners have developed the real estate around the park, perhaps as a fly-in resort community.

“For about 15 years the general aviation construction market was pretty active as the demand from private pilots for hangar space outstripped the supply,” Howell observes.

“Then with the 2008 recession, the market has been quiet the last three or four years. Now, however, the market is picking back p again as airport owners are feeling more confident about where the economy is headed.” At the same time, he relates, “I see more post-frame and metal-building contractors looking to diversify and showing interest in the general aviation market.”

According to Howell, Erect-A-Tube generates about half of its volume from builders who contact the company. The other half is generated as the manufacturer identifies projects being put out for bid and then contacts qualified local metal builders who might be interested in bidding. Contractors who are new to the general aviation market, Howell adds, are welcome to let his company know of their interest in being contacted about any hangar projects in their areas.

While Howell believes that, nationally, the market is picking up again, he admits, “For now, it’s a one-and-done market. Years ago when the market was hot, one hangar project might lead to others at the same facility. Now, though, you’re more likely to build a hangar at a particular airport and then not again for another four or five years.”

Still, even building one hangar at a time can generate a solid volume of work. “Metal buildings are favored in general aviation,” Howell notes, “because of their durability and due to the fire codes. A small aircraft can be worth anywhere from $100,000 up to $3 million or $4 million. That’s a significant investment and hangar owners want to protect it.”

Dayco’s Smith concurs that, while “it’s an owner’s market and profit margins on all construction work are slim,” his company stays alert for general aviation projects because their dollar volume can help keep crews busy. “If you’ve done metal buildings before,” he advises, “you can put up a hangar.” - By Mark Ward, Sr., RB

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