Twenty-something years ago, Frank Renwick had a problem. He had been running the NAC ground maintenance base at Christchurch’s Harewood airport. With the merger between the domestic carrier NAC and Air New Zealand, who flew the international routes, Frank found himself in the same role with the new National Carrier. Then, in a pattern of events that keeps repeating to this day, the company had one of its periodical restructure/purges and Frank’s department was no more.
An astute fellow for sure, Frank knew that the work he had being doing would still need to be done, so he set up Airport Ground Support Services (AGSS), specifically to maintain and manufacture GSE (Ground Support Equipment) for the airport and the airlines which serviced it.
Twenty one years later Frank still owns the business in partnership with General Manager Greg Terras, who has spent all 30 plus years of his working life in the motor trade. While they still do the work for which the company was originally founded, they also do mechanical and servicing work for private vehicles as well as 30 WoF inspections each week.
The GSE service side of the operation still provides around 50% of their business. It does seem strange to see an airline catering truck parked alongside the more normal vehicles one would usually be expecting to see in a workshop and out to the side in the fabrication department, baggage trollies and belt-loaders are still built and maintained.
They have a huge advantage over any would-be competitor for this sort of work in that they are located on the actual airfield and their workshop has direct airside access to the tarmac. This may not sound all that important but… many of the airport vehicles and ground equipment are not road-legal. Being able to drive an aircraft tug needing an oil change straight into an independent workshop with a maintenance contract is a far more practical solution than having to hire a low-loader to take it to an offairport garage.
They even list the U.S. Air Force among their clients. The U.S. Antarctic Program is based at Christchurch airport so while plane-spotters (and yes, there are such people) are entertained by enormous American Galaxy cargo planes coming and going as well as a regular ski-equipped C130 Hercules, the ground equipment is also different to the norm. It is not unusual to see the olive drab of Uncle Sam’s military running around the airport, or in Greg’s workshop for repair.
There is another area that AGSS specialises in which adds character to the workshop. Frank has long been connected with the world of vintage motoring and Julian, one of the mechanics, has spent many years working for a classic car restorer. So owners of (much) older cars have somewhere to go for a WoF where the staff not only understand the cars (and the owners!), they also understand the small nuances in the WoF regulations and how they apply to someone’s antiquated and cherished 1930 Grey Porridge.
And should the car need work, there are people on hand who understand such ancient things as brake cables, pushrods and even (heaven forbid) side-valve engines. Which is why when I visited, a 1920s Fiat 509 was sitting in axle stands, rather dwarfed by the nearby catering truck. It makes a change from a Toyota Surf with a blown head-gasket.
Being on the western side of Christchurch, the land and buildings around the airport did not suffer to the same extent as the east or central city during the earthquakes and this has seen the environment change completely in this area. New industrial and business parks have sprung up, the airport itself had been upgraded and enlarged just before the quakes and it is estimated that that more than 5000 people now work in or around the airport.
Now, instead of being stuck on the outskirts of town, Airport Ground Support Services have found themselves ideally located right in the middle of one of the fastest-growing parts of the city and there is no sign of the influx of businesses and people slowing any time soon.
Workers can drive to AGSS, leave their cars there for the day for a WoF or servicing and walk the short distance to wherever it is they are employed and then return at the end of the day with their car ready to go.
Interestingly, Greg says that so far the new WoF frequency changes have yet to make their effects felt, although that may change in the next few months as cars which were in six months ago now don’t need to come back for a year. Either that or most of their clients are poor like me and they don’t own anything new enough to qualify for a twelve month WoF. It is quick and convenient for the customers while for Greg and his team of eight, a ready-made pool of new customers has literally turned up on their doorstep!
Development in the airport area continues. The nearby Sudima hotel is in the middle of a rebuild which will result in a huge increase in the number of rooms it currently has. Construction is soon to start on a supermarket and all of this means more people working in the area and more reason for others to visit. The businesses already established, like AGSS are ideally placed to take full advantage of all of this.
As I left, Greg’s parting words? “The future is looking bright”.
General Manager Greg Terras tending to some of the less oily sides of the business.
Fiat and Bentley share workshop space.