Live from First Friday (Tupelo jet recycler) 2/3/12

We’re live this morning (7 a.m.) at the Community Development Foundation’s First Friday event. We’re in the food court of the Mall at Barnes Crossing.

Today’s sponsor: TRI Realtors

Today’s speaker: Keri Wright, chief operating officer of Universal Asset Management. UAM operates the jet recycling program at Tupelo Regional Airport. It also has 450,000 square feet of distribution space in Verona.

Disclaimer: I’m typing as people are talking. There may be typos. I also can’t always hear everything.

And, I’m not typing every word. Think of this more as the highlights of the speech. Something doesn’t make sense? Corrections? Have questions? Ask.


I’m very impressed with such an ambitious group to be here listening to a speech at 7 a.m. on a Friday.

Test your UAM trivia knowledge. Winners will get bullhorns off the planes from Tupelo. Winners also can get glow-in-the-dark exit signs from the planes.

Josh Abramson – you are not eligible (ha ha ha)

• How many planes are at the UAM disassembly facility in Tupelo? (hands going up all over the place – 4 – 5 – 8)

16, it is! Winner picks a bullhorn.

• Name all aircraft types in the facility (4 types)

737-300 (10 of them from United – have 4 more coming – these are narrow bodies), 747-400 (JAL plane), A310, 767-300 (most recent additions last week)

• Last operators of aircraft?

United, Fly White (Portugal), Lufthansa, JAL, Air China

(mayor is one of the winners – picks a bullhorn and tests it out)

The aviation industry is the only industry with flying factories. The factories stop moving and they stop making money.

What you see here at the airport is one side of UAM’s business – aircraft disassembly.
Company started 18 years ago to buy and sell commercial jets. Some make them to Tupelo. We lease aircraft to airlines around the world. AFter that it becomes a candidate for disassembly.

We also have distribution and sales. Sell components. We also have aircraft support on the ground. Send parts via courier to wherever in the world it needs to be. That’s why it’s so important for us to be close to FedEx in Memphis.

Question – how many have flown a plane? (hands raise) Commercial pilots? (a few hands) Flown in a commercial plane? (lots of hands)

For any part that comes off our our planes, they have to go through FAA regulations. Have to be recertified to be installed on an operating aircraft. Batteries, lighting, fuel, etc.

I started on the asset mgmt side. I started with buying and selling planes. Four or 5 years ago, we got a call from a gentleman in Africa. He was interested in our 777. We wanted to disassemble it. He wanted to buy it and said he was coming. I said it wasn’t for sale. 24 hours later, he shows up on our door with a bodyguard and an agent. Transferred the money. Now the plane is transporting the president of Gabon, Africa.

Aviation is one of the most amazing industries to me because it connects so many people around the world.

Tupelo is the place UAM uses for its show and tell. Only place you can crawl around and see what we do. We use it to show our clients and we always will. We have partners from around the world and we love to bring them to Tupelo and show them Tupelo.

Moving here from Arkansas allowed us to springboard our operations.

2011 our new initiative was so grow sales offices. Have offices in Asia, Africa and others.
Asset mgmt, component sales corporate offices are in Memphis.

Who do we sell to? Every aircraft you’ve flown on, UAM probably had a part in. – AA, KLM, Delta, UPS, Spirit, Air Asia.

There’s not a single airline in the world that doesn’t use used parts recertified.

Disassembly facility & warehouse in Tupelo – 16 current projects, 14 more coming; foreign trade zone;

We had our first engagement. Came from a plane from Japan. Pilot brought over ring. Our employee proposed. The girl didn’t see it coming. As a girl, you can’t get a better story than that – my ring was flown in on a private plane.

UAM employs certified A&P mechanics. We’ve employed people before that weren’t certified but we lost too much money because they weren’t certified to be working with aircraft parts.

We employ mechanics who are going to school. We offer internships.

We also build custom crates.

Most important thing for us is being green. This started long before the global green initiative. UAM focuses on every aspect of the disassembly process. For example, when we pull the fuel off, every drop is used. We use it, sell it or recycle it.

We have a hazmat team. All fluids are pulled off and recycled or disposed of properly.

“Nose to tail” recycling – we reuse carpet and seat foams to pad our crates.

The scrap guy comes in with the claw and we recycle aluminum. Beer and soda cans are recycled aluminum. We also recycle the cockpit. We cut the head off. It’s used as simulators. People who want to have simulator in the basement also buy our cockpits. One of the last things we do is the cockpit removal. Scrap guy comes within 48 hours because it’s just sad looking.

We had 3 airplanes arrive last week. Busiest week we’ve had. 2 from Lufthansa, and 1 from Air China.

First thing we do is pull the engines off. We pull out avionics, auxiliary power, landing gear, thrust reverser. Besides cutting off the head (cockpit), we cut off the legs (landing gear). At that point, it’s just a sad looking plane.

Then we store the parts in a warehouse and sell them.

Where is UAM going? What I’m looking for is ways for UAM to get involved in the community. We are a for-profit company. Our goal is to make money. If we can make money, we can give back to our employees and to our community.

Telling story about how UAM gave a plane to a struggling restaurant in Arkansas. Gave over $1M to local Baptist college for a chapel. Did a graduate incentive program of giving a way a new car at graduation – had to be present to win. The school had the highest rate of people present at graduation. It always ended up that the people who won were so deserving.

I’m glad you guys are here because we want to know ways we can get involved. We’re looking for schools to partner with. We’re looking for training programs we can partner with.

Are we hiring? Yes. Open positions:

  • A&P mechanics (apprenticeships if you have a mechanics background)
  • inventory specialists for warehouse (have over $1B in inventory)
  • office coordinator
  • asset manager (memphis)
  • sales account manager

Apply via:

This year, we’re going to open a sales office in Tupelo. Based at distribution center. – If you have a great opportunity that you think UAM should be involved with, let us know. Here’s my email address.

We’re creeping up on 50 employees in Tupelo. I expect that to grow. We want to hit 100 in the next 2 years.

All the airplanes that come in here are not bad aircraft. Purely economics. It doesn’t get to a certain age and then it dies. It usually comes up to a specific check and it’s too costly to fix, so they sell it.

UAM, we’re as close to recession proof as we can be. Knock on wood. When the economy is good, that’s when everyone wants to be flying. Prices on our parts go up because everyone wants them. When the economy goes down, airlines start letting leases go and getting rid of extra inventory. Value of the aircraft as a whole is not worth the same as the individual parts.

We are one of the largest buyers of aircrafts around the world.

Average time an aircraft sits on the ramp? First one in Tupelo sat on the ground longer than it should have because we were trying to close one facility and move here. It will improve in the future.

Widebody disassembly is is 60 to 90 days.

Narrow body is 10 business days.

Scrapper takes a little longer because we get several airplanes lined up to scrap at one time because of scrap values.

How many planes can we handle? We can handle as many as Josh (of the airport) will pour the concrete for. We’re working on deals now. We have more aircraft than we know what to do with and that’s why we are constantly hiring. We have to keep churning.

My goal is the next time we have a big airplane come out, we want to have everyone out there to tour around the plane. We’re going to set up a community day on a Saturday to tour. If you want to tour before then, send me an email and I’ll create a mailing list to let you know when the next plane tour is.

8:07 – Wright ends. CDF gives her a gift. Now CDF is giving out door prizes (gift certificates for BWW, Reed’s, Fairpark Grill).

Next speaker is Dr. Mike Ward, a public education consultant

8:09 – Meeting adjourned.

Read the Daily Journal tomorrow for more details.

Sidenote – Keri Wright has been racing single engine planes since she was 20. She races every year in the Women’s Air Race Classic.

Click video to hear audio