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GRETCHEN METZ , Staff Writer 09/09/2004

SADSBURY -- It was not only the kind words delivered as Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. officials were honored during a presentation at Keystone Helicopter’s new heliplex Wednesday that made the visiting executives smile.

What really helped the Connecticut-based helicopter executives feel at home was a whiff of something familiar as they entered Keystone’s service area.

"Hydraulic fluid, there’s nothing like it," remarked Al Altieri, director of major subcontracts at Sikorsky, Keystone’s biggest customer.

The presentation ceremony recognized Keystone’s completion of 50 Sikorsky S-76C+ helicopters -- aircraft used for medical transport, oil field work and corporate executive transportation.

Sikorsky builds the S-76 and then delivers it to Keystone to outfit the insides, from upholstery to controls.

Keystone and Sikorsky teamed up on the S-76 four and a half years ago.

At the time, Sikorsky announced it was closing its West Palm Beach, Fla.-based service center. It wanted a completion center that could do the job at half the cost, said David Ford, Keystone’s president.

Keystone submitted an "unsolicited proposal," for the work, Ford said.

Dave Buonanno, Sikorsky vice president of materials, told Keystone employees, "you are the best at what you do," adding "the day you are not the best at what you do, someone will take your place" and "eat your lunch."

Sikorsky officials Wednesday morning toured Keystone’s bright, airy new campus at the Bellaire Business Center.

One building on the 15-acre site is finished and in use. A second is planned.

Once completed, the $13 million project will total 135,000 square feet and Keystone will move out of its longtime home on Phoenixville Pike in West Whiteland, a place once surrounded by farm fields but is now surrounded by houses and businesses.

In addition to the need for more space for the growing company, the other issue was noise.

"We tried to be good neighbors," said Steve Townes, chief executive at Keystone. But, he added, helicopters do make noise.

The West Whiteland building will be returned to its owner, company founder Peter Wright, Townes said.

Townes said the new campus is intended to be a "stark visual statement" that will relay to customers "where we’re taking Keystone."

The building, a former factory, was old, dark and dank, Townes said.

"We gutted it, made it new inside, invested an enormous amount of capital," Townes said.

The company was founded in 1953, at Philadelphia International Airport. It moved to the suburbs 20 years later.

The company has grown dramatically over the last few years.

In 1995, Keystone had 200 employees. Today the number is 603. Of that, 200 are in the field as helicopter pilots or mechanics.

Gross sales are $90 million annually.

This year Keystone purchased Dallas-based Composite Technology Inc., a company that overhauls and modifies rotor blades.

Keystone has one of the largest air medical operations and the largest helicopter maintenance, repair and completion center from Texas to the Northeast -- a region with the heaviest helicopter demographic in the world.

Keystone Helicopter was purchased in January 2002 by Keystone Ranger Holdings, a Philadelphia-area private investment organization that specializes in aviation-related ventures founded by Townes.

İDaily Local News 2004


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