Growing up in Stuttgart, Bryan Hancock dreamed of becoming a pilot and flying airplanes for a living. He accomplished that goal, but circumstances later sent his life in a different direction. Today, though he still flies occasionally, he is the managing partner of CAVU Aerospace, a company that takes decommissioned airplanes apart and recycles them.
“The focus of our company is on bringing aircraft full circle,” Hancock said. “We take a retiring aircraft, take all the parts off of it, certify the parts and return the parts back into service. It saves the airlines a lot of money.”
Founded in 2010 by Hancock and his partner, Kenneth Kocialski, CAVU Aerospace takes its name from an aviation term, the letters of which stand for “Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited,” ideal flying conditions.
Though CAVU Aerospace has the capability of recycling smaller planes, like private and corporate jets and aircraft used for general aviation, the partners have chosen to focus their efforts on commercial aircraft. Depending on the size, the planes they acquire can have between 1,000 and 1,500 component parts removed, each with a serial number and each tracked by the airline that operated the plane. Having a complete list of the aircraft’s parts provided by the owner makes it feasible for CAVU to evaluate the potential market value of those parts, without actually seeing the aircraft prior to bidding on it.
When CAVU Aerospace started, the planes it purchased were flown to the company’s facility at the Stuttgart Municipal Airport, where they were dismantled and parts sold off. It also has a mobile team available to travel to the site of decommissioned planes that can’t be flown. Hancock says that the entire process of disassembling the aircraft can generally be accomplished within 30 days.
Just over a year ago, CAVU expanded its operations by opening an 80,000-square-foot component-repair facility in Mesa, Ariz. This was part of a number of asset purchases CAVU has made over the past few years. The company also added disassembly facilities in Roswell, N.M., and Victorville, Calif., to its portfolio. These investments, which also included a recycling company in Roswell, totaled about $15 million.
Not every part of a decommissioned aircraft can be reused for aviation. For CAVU, there is significant demand for parts of the body of a plane for use other than flying. Customers sometimes request that a cockpit be cut off a plane, which is then turned into a flight simulator for pilot training. In the same way, airlines have bought passenger doors and overwing emergency exit doors, which are turned into a training tools for pilots and flight attendants.
CAVU has cut out sections of wings so manufacturers can do testing on older aircraft. Movie producers have bought sections of an aircraft body for film productions. Some parts get turned into art and even furniture. The conference table at CAVU’s Stuttgart headquarters is made out of the horizontal stabilizer from a decommissioned MD80 plane.
Hancock never imagined that he would one day be running a company with 75 employees at four locations in four states. He enrolled in flight school right after graduating from Stuttgart High School in 1987. Once he got his pilot’s license, he moved to Florida for further training, gave flying lessons for a while, then moved to Alaska. He flew professionally for eight years, working for several airlines out of Alaska and Denver, finally landing a job flying the Airbus A319 and A320 for United Airlines while based in Chicago.
Then 9/11 happened. The airline industry was hit hard, and Hancock was furloughed from United. He went to work for a company that did aircraft recycling in Memphis. In 2010, he and Kocialski, who he had met while they worked for different companies in the aviation parts aftermarket, decided to join forces and started CAVU Aerospace back in his hometown of Stuttgart.
“My dream was to be a pilot, and I’m pretty sure I would have stuck with it, except for 9/11,” Hancock said. “It seems as if God had different plans for me, though. So, here we are.”
As far as the future of CAVU Aerospace, Hancock plans to stabilize and maintain the growth the company has experienced in the past few years.
“We’ve gone through a huge growth spurt and made huge investments over the last three or four years, getting everything we wanted into place,” he said. “I think that’s about all we’re going to do for a while. We’re pretty much focused now on getting all aspects of our operations completely lined out. I don’t have any big growth plans or any additional purchases or additions to make in the next couple of years.”