Rejuvenating airplanes is a soaring local business

SHOWING OFF — East Coast Aircraft co-owners Paulus and Marta proudly show off their first recently completed full-size business-jet rejuvenation project. The custom-striped plane, a Gulfstream 550, marks an expansion in the size and complexity of work they are now undertaking.

SHOWING OFF — East Coast Aircraft co-owners Paulus and Marta proudly show off their first recently completed full-size business-jet rejuvenation project. The custom-striped plane, a Gulfstream 550, marks an expansion in the size and complexity of work they are now undertaking.

PHOTOS COURTESY EAST COAST AIRCRAFT

JAMMED PAINT SHOP — From the street side, you get no idea of how busy East Coast Aircraft’s paint hangar really is. This view, taken from the taxiway side of the shop, shows at least six planes in various stages of preparation or painting. Several additional planes are being worked on at a hangar next door, where interiors are refurbished.

JAMMED PAINT SHOP — From the street side, you get no idea of how busy East Coast Aircraft’s paint hangar really is. This view, taken from the taxiway side of the shop, shows at least six planes in various stages of preparation or painting. Several additional planes are being worked on at a hangar next door, where interiors are refurbished.

Just five years ago, a Brazilian-American couple moved to DeLand with a dream of creating a business of repainting and refitting airplanes to give them a new lease on life. DeLand Municipal Airport had a hangar they could rent, and they had a relative living here, so they signed a lease and put up a “The Paint Shop” sign over their hangar.

That first year, Paulus and Marta Nobrega had all they could handle bringing East Coast Aircraft Co. to life, while also bringing their first of two daughters to life. They struggled to finish painting two small planes a month at first, but they kept their price low and hired and trained skilled crew members.

Paulus oversees and works in the paint shop, Marta is the office manager, and her father heads up the interior work.

Since then, things have mushroomed for their fledgling business. They bought the rental hangar after only two years, and added another hangar for interior reupholstery work. They now have a third hangar, with plans to build two more hangars on the east side of the airport.

They have 18 employees, and nearly a dozen planes can be found parked nearby, masked and ready to be repainted. They are finishing up to 15 planes a month, the maximum their present hangar space can accommodate.

From the first small-plane paint jobs, Paulus and Marta have steadily gone upmarket. They recently contracted their first three full-size business-jet renovations, with complete interior renewals as well as custom painting and striping.

Their secret? Keeping customer costs down.

“Other shops at bigger airports or with bigger hangars might charge $100,000 to maybe $140,000 to do a Citation [a good-sized business jet], but we can do one for around $60,000,”  Marta said.

Paulus and some of their crew used to work at Gulfstream, or at larger paint shops. The recession made several of their skilled team available. Turnover is very low, Paulus said.

The Nobregas also offer computerized custom swirls and painting accents created by in-house designer Sonya Hathcoat, who doubles as Marta’s office assistant as well.

After only five years, East Coast Aircraft is already contributing about half a million dollars a year in salaries to the West Volusia economy, with more in the planning stage.

“We didn’t expect all this business!” Marta noted. “Downtime is a big problem for our customers, and with more hangars we are planning to build, we can cut our downtime.”

With more hangars will come the need for more skilled staff, as well.

— Rick Butler, info@beacononlinenews.com

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