Staying on course

EVERETT – They started out in some guy’s garage in Stanwood.

No, it’s not another cliche beginning for a Seattle band.

In the past decade, Northwest Aerospace Technologies has grown from three employees working out of president Paul Sobotta’s garage to a multimillion dollar aerospace company based in downtown Everett. With offices on three continents and 80 employees in its folds, Northwest Aerospace Technologies recently celebrated its 10th anniversary by picking up the largest order in its history.

From the beginning, Sobotta, Jeff McShane, executive vice president, and Jeff Leek, a former Boeing Co. engineer, believed the company would do well if it could meet initial customers’ demands.

“We’ve always delivered, and airlines keep coming back to us,” McShane said.

So the company has continued to grow, maintaining its original customer base of American Airlines, U.S. Airways and United Airlines while adding new clients including Boeing, Qantas and British Airways.

But it wasn’t necessarily a smooth ride for the company, which provides engineering, manufacturing and FAA certification services to airlines.

Northwest Aerospace Technologies hadn’t quite celebrated its fifth year in business when the industry was turned upside down by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“In August 2001, we were set to conquer the world,” Sobotta said.

The company was back on its feet within a few months, developing a device that helps planes meet new safety standards for locked cockpit doors, McShane said.

“The industry needed an answer quickly,” he said.

The bulk of NAT’s work comes from retrofit projects – helping airlines quickly and easily swap out first-class seating arrangements for economy ones, like what the company did for United Airlines a few years ago.

Carriers such as United struggled to stay afloat after Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S.-based airline launched “Ted” as a spin-off designed to compete with low-cost carriers by packing more passengers in its planes and charging them less for tickets. That meant giving United’s Ted planes a new look fast.

United, which had cut its work force after Sept. 11, turned to Northwest Aerospace Technologies to figure out the necessary equipment, order and put materials into kits, and write work instructions for United employees who performed the actual labor.

About 80 to 90 percent of the components NAT purchases for its products come from aerospace companies in the region, said Sobotta, who is a former Boeing engineer.

Projects such as the one for United allowed the company to continue to grow even during the industry’s downturn. Northwest Aerospace Technologies picked up additional space at its Hewitt Avenue location and added offices in London, England, Sydney, Australia and Bozeman, Mont., where it focuses recruiting efforts on students graduating from Montana State University.

Northwest Aerospace Technologies’ latest contract, worth about $20 million from an undisclosed customer, could open even more doors for the company.

“We stick to what we know,” Sobotta said. “We stick to what we’re good at.”

Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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