Business soars for airplane outfitting firm

MIDDLEBURY — Saying someone’s business is “soaring” can fall into the category of a trite embellishment.
But it’s a term that can legitimately be used about Green Mountain Avionics (GMA), a budding new enterprise that helps aircraft soar reliably through the skies.
It was two years ago the Bristol resident Bill Hanf found space at the Middlebury State Airport for GMA, an enterprise that equips airplanes and helicopters with avionics — a whole range of equipment that includes communication, navigation and autopilot hardware.
This service allows the owners of older, solid airplanes to retrofit with the latest avionics technology and therefore not have to spring for brand new aircraft. Hanf explained the engine, airframe and avionics are the three main components of an aircraft.
“The airframe and the engine technology for most aircraft hasn’t really changed that much,” Hanf said. “However, avionics is such a rapidly changing technology that if you get an aircraft that’s 30 years old with original equipment, your avionics is basically obsolete. So, for a fraction of the cost of a new aircraft, if you’ve got a good airframe and a good engine, we can upgrade the avionics to modern standards.”
Many smaller aircraft owners throughout the state have been doing just that, and they have been looking to GMA to provide the service. Hanf has built good working relationships with repair crews throughout the state’s airport system, and those crews are regularly referring potential clients to GMA. The company’s presence at the Middlebury State Airport has helped secure a lot of local trade as well.
It has all added up to new, local jobs. Hanf started GMA as a solo technician in 2011. He has since hired two other full-timers, who do work in-house, or fly in a company plane to airports throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and New York to perform jobs on aircraft. GMA is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and serves as a dealer for a variety of avionics manufacturers, particularly Garmin.
“I have gone on day trips to Potsdam and Ogdensburg (N.Y.) … I also have a significant customer in Lebanon, N.H.,” Hanf said. “There are few other companies providing these services in this area.”  
Hanf has always been interested in aeronautics, a passion he began pursuing as a helicopter repair technician with the United States Marine Corps after graduating from Mount Abraham Union High School in 1990.
“I really enjoyed it; it was good for me,” he said of his experiences in the USMC. “I learned a lot of skills I could use later in life.”
After leaving the USMC in 1997, Hanf began what would become a nine-year association with Cessna Citation, first in Long Beach, Calif., then in Newburgh, N.Y. But he yearned to return to his native Vermont, and took a job with Heritage Aviation in Burlington.
“I helped grow the avionics department there,” he said of Heritage. “I enjoyed it. After a few years, it was time for me to do something else.”
That’s when he decided to strike out on his own with GMA at the Middlebury Airport.
“Starting a repair shop is not a small task,” he recalled of the early challenges.
But GMA became FAA-certified within just six months and quickly forged relationships with avionics manufacturers Garmin and Aspen.
GMA and fellow Middlebury Airport tenant J&M Aviation have provided one-stop shopping for people seeking major work on their airplanes. J&M has gained a reputation throughout New England for its work in custom painting, interior refurbishments and engine work.
“Between the talents we have here, there’s not a lot we can’t do,” Hanf said.
And GMA will soon be conducting its business in a new hangar, according to Chris Beitzel, the Rutland State Airport manager who also oversees the Middlebury airport. The new 50-foot-by-80-foot hangar will be heated and will also provide office space for GMA, which will be the only tenant. Hanf hopes construction on the new hangar will begin before the winter.
An existing hangar at the airport that was damaged by strong winds will be demolished, according to Beitzel.
“We wanted to rebuild in a way that would be more useful to businesses on the field,” Beitzel said. He added there is likely to soon be an announcement of additional business activity at the airport.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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