Aerospace firm saved from the brink with AMSCI funding

Posted on 22 Oct 2014 by Victoria Fitzgerald

Coventry-based CFS Aero has secured almost £1m in funding through the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative and with assistance from the Coventry and Warwickshire Growth Hub.

The firm is poised to double staff numbers from 30 to 70 over the next two to three years by offering new products and services to open up a wider customer base.

In 2012 the company was bought from liquidators by business partners Jon Freedman and David Newhouse.

The 25-year-old firm was struggling with its business model of refurbishing and overhauling engines and propellers on a range of aircraft, predominantly on behalf of flying enthusiasts.

“The company has always had highly skilled staff,” said Freedman, “and they were undertaking extremely technical work but the problem was there was very little margin in the previous business model and so it fell on hard times.

“It couldn’t survive because it was charging less per hour than a car mechanic would and yet the quality checks and paper work that went with it was probably tenfold.”

Freedman and Newhouse bought the firm with a plan of stripping the assets and moving it elsewhere but they fell in love with what they found.

“We just got sucked in,” said Freedman, “there was a wonderful skill-base and mentality within the business, the like of which I’d never seen before. Our engineering team do not regard working here as a job, they see it as their vocation.

“So we decided we would retain the historic element to the business but knew we had to push forward into the future if we were to make it a profitable and sustainable company.”

The AMSCI funding has helped to pay for the internal construction work needed for CFS Aero to move into a production line of remanufacturing turbine engines for aircraft.

It is also helping to fund an extensive training programme for the company that is committed to bringing through the next generation of engineers as apprentices.

The Coventry and Warwickshire Growth Hub has also assisted the company in taking on two graduates from Coventry University and has helped it to join the Coventry and Warwickshire Aerospace Forum (CWAF), which is expanding the firm’s horizons.

“Part of the plan is to bring in new work to the region that we won’t necessarily do ourselves but will sub-contract out and CWAF is an ideal organisation to do that with,” said Freedman. “The support we have received is certainly helping us to grow and grow more quickly.

“We want to go from 30 to 70 staff over the next two to three years – that’s the plan. The new work should be much more cost-effective but we want to ensure that we remain true to the company’s roots too. Overhauling engines from old aircraft is one of the best forms of training a new employee can get.

“Some of the machinery we use for overhauling historic engines is over 70 years old,” he added. “When other people from industry come to see us they say it’s like an engineer’s paradise. We want to retain that – but we also make sure the business has the capital equipment and knowledge base required to support today’s aircraft engine technology.”

Craig Humphrey, managing director at the Growth Hub – a clearing house for business, said CFS Aero was precisely the type of firm the hub was designed to support.

He said: “You only have to walk around the company for an hour and you see the history of aviation right before your eyes.

“In some areas, you have 21st Century, state-of-the-art testing facilities and then, in others, it’s almost a museum to our aviation engineering heritage but one steeped in a tradition of excellence.

“The Growth Hub is here to support companies in our advanced engineering and manufacturing sector in any way we can – whether it’s helping to access grant money or sourcing the next generation of staff and we are delighted to have helped what is a truly unique Coventry business.”