Aircraft hangars can be used for many things – typically, simply for storage, whether overnight or for longer periods, or as maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities – but they and their specialist access doors are designed, built and installed by only a limited number of companies around the world. Airside met with a few of them…
“The future is looking exciting,” says Jewers Doors director Jonathan Jewers. “There is real excitement at the moment about commercial aviation and the desire of so many people to once again be flying.”
He continues: “Commercial airlines are starting to spend a lot of money on maintenance and returning aircraft to service.” As a result of this, together with the fact that there are “just not enough hangar hours available”, airlines are looking to invest in both new and existing hangars.
Jewers Doors stands ready to help meet that demand. The Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, UK-headquartered company specialises in sliding and sliding folding doors for industrial facilities and aircraft hangars. Its Esavian-branded hangar doors are a feature of many aircraft hangars around the world.
The uptick in the commercial aviation business will be welcome, of course. Although there has been a noticeable downturn in demand for hangar doors and the infrastructure they complement during the pandemic, Jonathan Jewers admits, demand for military and government hangars and hangar doors has remained healthy – while business aviation has even seen growth.
Jewers Doors has by no means been without work during the pandemic, therefore. For example, it has just topped out (ie, completed the final piece of work on an installation) Type 126 Esavian doors for a hangar for the Belgian Air Force in Brussels. The hangar has a twin-bay area on one side of the structure for two A400M military transport aircraft, and a single bay on its other side for an A330 MRTT (multi role tanker transport).
Some years ago, Jewers Doors provided the doors for an A330 MRTT hangar at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, England.
Jewers Doors’ Esavian doors are straight, sliding steel hangar doors, suitable for openings ranging from between 6m and 40m in height. They can be of unlimited width, and they can employ any conventional profiled or glazed cladding system, including polycarbonates and glass reinforced plastic (GRP).
The company is also currently working onsite at Dubai South, at the emirate’s Al Maktoum Airport, where it is installing hangar doors for an ExecuJet facility. ExecuJet provides luxury private jet charters and aviation services.
Jewers Doors is also involved in a project in Turkmenistan, where it is supporting the installation of no less than nine hangars for the president. Three will be able to house widebody B777s, six will take Code C size B737 Max aircraft.
And, in the Far East, Jewers Doors is providing doors for a Hong Kong Government Flying Service helicopter facility being built at the site of the old Kai Tak Airport. Because of the premium on space in Hong Kong, the facility is actually being built under a shopping centre. Jewers Doors is currently topping out the doors here.
Hong Kong’s Government Flying Service is actually based at the new Hong Kong International Airport at Check Lap Kok (where Jewers Doors also installed some of its hangar doors more than 20 years ago), but was previously based at Kai Tak and is to open a new branch facility at the latter site that will include a helipad and helicopter storage facilities.
Like all of Jewers Doors’ hangar doors, these projects involve totally bespoke designs. The company works closely with architects and of course the customer to create a design that meets all the needs of the user, in terms of operational requirements, architectural preferences and security needs, even taking into account customers’ desires in regards to sustainability.
Jewers Doors handles the design, manufacture and installation of hangar doors to create “very specific solutions” for each and every customer, Jonathan Jewers explains.
Jewers Doors took the opportunity during the pandemic-induced downturn in the aviation market to move to bigger, more modern facilities not far from its old base in Biggleswade. It was much easier to do so then than when manufacturing is at full capacity, Jonathan Jewers points out. And having moved into bigger plant and office, the company is now excellently positioned to meet the expected recovery in demand.
The new facilities are state of the art and rigged out so as to suit these Covid-19-affected times. For example, there are no light switches: the lights are triggered by motion sensors. Doors open automatically as people approach; even the taps are of a no-touch design.
All Jewers Doors’ staff work at the new site, socially distanced to keep employees as safe as possible from potential infection.
Schwarzmann: meeting ‘a combination of client requirements’
Meeting very specific customer needs is an important element of the offering of many of those businesses involved in the provision of hangars and of hangar doors. Polhov Gradec, Slovenia-based Schwarzmann designs, manufactures and installs bespoke hangars and other facilities in the form of steel structures covered by insulation panels or PVC membranes.
Customers sometimes prefer the latter in those cases where internal temperatures are not an issue – typically hangars used purely for storage – or where rapid installation is a priority. Steel hangars covered purely by a PVC membrane can be manufactured and installed in just a few weeks.
Schwarzmann has been designing, manufacturing and assembling prefabricated steel structure buildings and facilities since 1993.
According to Jožef Schwarzmann, co-owner and a member of the Schwarzmann supervisory board, a key advantage of prefabricated steel buildings has become increasingly important in recent years – their low environmental impact. Steel as a building material is 100% recyclable and relatively lightweight, he points out, and it allows for the prefabrication of elements of the structure that can be assembled quickly and easily onsite. This is especially important in highly regulated zones such as airports.
The design, manufacturing and installation of a typical Schwarzmann hangar will only take about eight months. “Each new hangar is made to meet a combination of client requirements and benefits from our many years of experience in the design, manufacture and installation of large steel structure buildings,” Jožef Schwarzmann informs.
The company has continued to do well despite the pandemic. “We have not experienced any dips in demand. However, our supply chains have been affected and we have thus taken preventive measures in order to secure project timelines,” Jožef Schwarzmann recalls.
As an example of new business, he points to a contract signed last year for the construction and installation of a 10,000m2 MRO hangar in Germany. Able to accommodate four aircraft from the Airbus A320 family, the hangar will consist of a prefabricated, hot-dip galvanised steel structure covered with insulated steel panels. This job represents Schwarzmann’s biggest ever hangar project.
Currently in the production stage, installation is expected to begin in February 2022, with completion before the end of July.
The hangar will be fitted with two vertical lifting fold-up doors. The design meets the client’s very specific needs and represents “an extremely practical, energy-efficient and cost-effective solution” to their requirements, says Jožef Schwarzmann.
Schwarzmann has meanwhile been busy modernising its production facilities and reorganising many of its internal operating processes to allow for faster delivery of larger orders. Moreover, “With the purchase of a new cutting line, we have greatly increased both the accuracy and capacity of production, which has also shortened the delivery time for large facilities,” Jožef Schwarzmann says.
The Voortman VB1050 automated line, which went into service in spring last year, has enabled a much greater degree of precise automation in the manufacturing process.
This year will see the business recertify for the ISO 9001 quality management accreditation, Jožef Schwarzmann declares, and after that, it intends to start the process for gaining ISO 14001 environmental management system certification.
“Furthermore, we are actively exploring the possibilities of implementing sustainable materials and processes into our hangar product division,” he adds.
‘Learning a lot’
Lancut, Poland-based AL-STAL was established in 2004, primarily as a supplier of fire-resistant doors and windows made with aluminum and special steel profiles. The product line was quickly expanded to take in skylights and large-scale building facades and then – in 2010 – the company began designing large hangar doors.
Michał Ambroszkiewicz, head of AL-STAL’s hangar door department, takes up the story: “We were asked by a general contractor working for a Polish aviation museum to supply the door for that building. The project was not easy and the client couldn’t find any other companies in Poland that wanted to design the door.”
The door had to measure around 20m by 10m and would be made of glass. The whole door structure had to look similar to the aluminium facade on the building’s external walls. In addition, the customer wanted to hide the door’s motors below floor level.
“We co-operated with engineers from Rzeszow University of Technology, we hired automation and construction engineers and we successfully designed this door,” says Ambroszkiewicz. Since then, AL-STAL has work on various large aircraft hangar doors as well as shipyard doors – “learning a lot over the last 10 years”, says Ambroszkiewicz.
AL-STAL moved into a new factory and headquarters in Lancut in 2010; then, in 2018, it occupied another factory and more office space in same area. Today, the company employs about 50 people.
AL-STAL offers all sorts of hangar door types: sliding doors (in many options), sliding folding doors, lifting bifold doors and lifting fold-up PVC doors.
“When a client comes to us, we first learn about their needs and about the building site’s limitations. Then we perhaps propose a couple of options, advising on the best option to fit the client’s needs,” says Ambroszkiewicz.
“We believe there is no one answer to the question, ‘which door type is the best?’ It always depends on many factors and we treat all projects on an individual basis.
“Our biggest advantage is our flexibility – we say that we have absolutely no limitations: in terms of size; of cladding type (we can use glass, sandwich panels with foam or wool, polycarbonates, and so on, and we can use the same cladding as that found on the building’s wall); of extra features or special solutions like blast-proof doors.”
Most of AL-STAL’s hangar doors are to be found at airfields in Poland, but it has also installed doors in other countries, namely in Iceland, France and Slovakia. It also has upcoming projects in Europe in coming years that are currently at the design stage.
“We only started offering our doors abroad two years ago and we are looking for local partners in every country,” says Ambroszkiewicz.
AL-STAL’s most recent job was a hangar door for Airbus in Warsaw, Poland. The door size was 50m by 9m; it was of the sliding type, and included eight door leaves in a telescopic system. It was for an existing hangar whose old door also had to be removed.
The company’s scope of work took in the door design, and AL-STAL had to redesign the building structure to offer a bigger opening height of 9m rather than 7m.
But: “We have building engineers in our company and it was not a problem for us,” Ambroszkiewicz declares.
Currently, the company is involved in a new MRO hangar development in Katowice, Poland, being managed by a contractor based in Ruda Slaska called PROMUS. AL-STAL is supplying a sliding door measuring 88m by 14.5m, with four door leaves controlled by a multi-motor system and two doorways linked to a building access control system. The cladding chosen by the client and architect consists of 40mm-thick polycarbonate panels. Katowice Airport is expanding and planning to make further investments in its infrastructure in the coming years.
“Customers choose AL-STAL as a large hangar door supplier because we have over 10 years’ experience in the design and installation of this kind of doors, and we have undertaken many projects demanding specialised engineering knowledge,” Ambroszkiewicz asserts.
“Our team advises the client on the best solutions according to their requirements, while from the initial concept stage our engineers work together with architects and building designers to ensure that any building structure and door structure will complement and work well with the others (a very important part of the job).
“We are also very flexible – the client can be given many different options. Finally, we also always try to offer the most economical solution to match a client’s expectations.”
Covid-19 does not seem to have affected business unduly. In fact, says Ambroszkiewicz, “The last couple of years have been very good for us. We think it is because the aviation infrastructure business is a little bit separate from the general aviation market.
“Lots of hangar projects which are running now had been planned and budgeted for before the pandemic and they have not been stopped. Now, the future is also looking optimistic but things will depend on the global economic situation, as we see high inflation and energy costs rising all over Europe.
“But,” Ambroszkiewicz concludes, “we are not worried about this because we have no influence over the global economy and we are focused on our job – to advise and supply the best hangar door solutions for our clients.
“Indeed, over the coming year we want to develop our research and development (R&D) department to design new door solutions for all door types. We also want to identify new partners all over the world [that can] offer our product in other countries.”
Far to the north, Nivala, northern Finland-based Champion Door manufactures a wide range of vertically lifting, fabric fold-up doors for hangars as well as shipyards and industrial facilities. They are especially well suited to harsh environments. While robust and durable, they are also light and can offer high levels of heat and noise insulation.
Founder and CEO Pekka Hosio explains that, while times have been tough during the pandemic and resultant collapse in the aviation industry, things are looking much more positive now. Champion Door has recently received a number of new orders, some of them taken from customers in the civil aviation business at the Dubai Air Show in mid-November, alongside many others from NATO and other military customers in recent months (one particularly notable deal being Champion Door’s commitment to supply 64 doors for hangars housing US Air Force fighters based in Qatar).
The recent spate of aircraft orders announced by both Boeing and Airbus offers further cause for optimism. After all, these new aircraft will require improved accommodation, Hosio points out – namely, hangars.
Indeed, Hosio says, “While business is not yet quite as good as pre-Covid, today we are more positive and looking forward to a much better future.”
Complementing its clients in the defence sector, Champion Door’s main customers in the civil aviation sector include airfield and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operators. They are all benefiting from recent improvements that the company has made to its hangar doors. Hosio emphasises in particular new hydraulically operated door opening safety systems complementing unique door locking systems.
Indeed, one of the unique selling points of Champion Door is the built-in burglar protection capability which complements the doors’ heat insulation properties. Not only does the latter prevent the heat generated within the hangar escaping in cold environments, it also contains air-conditioned, cooled air in hot environments.
Soundproofing can also be provided, while the company’s hangar doors are designed to withstand a wide range of temperatures and significant moisture levels. They are resistant to dirt and wear, and the PVC material is resistant to aircraft de-icing chemicals.
These characteristics have helped Champion Door to sell its products into 55 countries around the world, and Hosio is optimistic that that number will further increase in the near future.