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San Jose Mercury News Article

 GEM Aviation hopes to find niche in Monterey

-As Posted by The San Jose Mercury News-

After years of flying heads of state and corporate executives around the world, the partners at Global-Executive Jet Maintenance wanted to stay put.

Their new company launched in January at Monterey Regional Airport.

Co-owner Tim Hawkins had a career in the airlines. He was director of flight operations for DHL corporate, then flew Gulfstreams for heads of state for four years. He had a stint flying an ambassador from San Jose to Portugal once a week.

"It sounds like fun," Hawkins said, "but it can get old after a while."

His business partner, C. Merrill Blumer, began his career as a corporate pilot at Pepsi-Cola and ended it at AT&T Wireless. He flew all over the world.

Blumer joined Hawkins as a partner in a jet maintenance business in Fresno. But after a competitor shot down their bid to renew their lease, they said, they searched out other markets and greener pastures. They hit upon Monterey.

"It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up," Hawkins said of the move. "Plus, everybody wanted us here."

The economy's downturn hasn't been kind to aviation locally. High-powered executives jetting in and out of Monterey for a round of golf didn't generate enough business, for example, for Monterey Bay Aviation, which closed up shop in November.

The company had been around since 1952 and provided maintenance, flight training and aircraft rentals. It also provided the aviation instruction for Monterey Peninsula College. (Michael Gilmartin, dean of instructional planning, said college officials hadn't heard anything from Monterey Bay Aviation and weren't sure whether they would offer aviation courses next fall.)

"Aviation can be a tough business to make it in," said Nate Young, general manager at the Monterey Jet Center, one of the airport's two fixed-base operations, where private aircraft fuel up and park.

Monterey Bay Aviation's folding left something of a void in aircraft maintenance providers, on top of other aviation services.

"It's nice to have someone here locally who can take care of the occasional breakdown or more in-depth maintenance services," Young said.

The Global Executive-Jet Maintenance owners say they've found brisker business than they were expecting to get initially.

"We hit the ground doing maintenance from the first day," Hawkins said.

Hawkins and Blumer maintain aircraft for Allegiant airline, and they're hoping to seal a deal to maintain aircraft for Alaska Airlines subsidiary Horizon Air when it launches daily flights between Monterey and San Diego in June.

They also have their sights set on emergency and regularly scheduled maintenance for companies in the burgeoning fractional aircraft sector — which sell shares in aircraft — such as NetJets and Avantair.

Hawkins estimated there might have been 100 NetJets in and out of the Monterey airport for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February.

"Our focus is to try to attract some of those transient aircraft to do some of their maintenance here," Blumer said.

The two owners are licensed mechanics and are designated as inspectors by the Federal Aviation Administration. On top of maintenance, they also manage airplanes and fly for hire.

Hawkins and Blumer, an unassuming pair who like to rib each other about their respective origins in northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa, have some 50,000 hours of flight time between them. They both ride motorcycles — Blumer a Triumph and Hawkins a Harley. Country music floats through their 10,000-square-foot space in the north part of the airport, which they rent from Del Monte Aviation.

They have two aircraft mechanics, and Blumer said they're looking to add employees, though it's hard to come by experienced aircraft mechanics, he said. Top-notch ones make somewhere in the neighborhood of $120,000 a year.

"So far, Monterey's been a great business climate," Hawkins said. "It's damn expensive, but that's the nature of it."

By KATE MOSER

SJ Mercury News

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