Jeff Landgrebe made an unexpected find two years ago as he stepped off an Alaska Airlines flight in San Jose, Calif.
I was walking down this ramp, Landgrebe recalls. I was expecting stairs and I thought 'what a neat, neat thing.'
Landgrebe directs western region airport activity for high-flying discounter JetBlue Airways. His job is moving passengers efficiently between terminals to planes. He had never heard of the ramp maker, but jotted down the phone number.
The airline executive's discovery of White City manufacturer Keith Consolidated Industries has resulted in several orders, including a &
36;150,000 boarding ramp soon to be shipped to JFK International Airport in New York.
KCI supplies boarding ramps suitable for regional jets to Boeing 757s to 43 airports ranging from Yellowstone Regional in Cody, Wyo., to Houston Intercontinental. Company revenues have grown 30 percent annually and are on target to surpass &
36;3 million this year.
— The vast majority of our business is driven by our airline customers who tell the airports what type of ramps they would like, says company President Bill Keith.
Keith, 53, launched KCI as a construction company after retiring from the military following Desert Storm in 1992. KCI acquired Turbo Way in 2002 and revamped the operation. You won't find a marketing staff at the Antelope Road plant, but you'll find 40 people reshaping the way travelers get on and off commercial flights.
Within days of acquiring Turbo Way, Keith invited representatives from SkyWest, Horizon Air, Alaska Airlines, Mesa Air Group, America West (now U.S. Air), Comair and United. They came, saw and made recommendations.
Turbo Way's original (business) model was to get one ramp at an airport, Keith says. We want one ramp at each gate. Our growth is strong because we've come up with a lot of different solutions to move passengers.
He points out there are 28 ramps at Salt Lake City International Airport.
The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 forced airlines to find ways to get special-needs passengers on board. KCI's ramps have made it a more manageable task.
An airport can easily spend &
36;350,000 to install an air bridge, or they can spend roughly a tenth of that on one of KCI's boarding, jetway or specialty ramps.
They can just run the ramps right up to the thing, Landgrebe says. There's no engine, motor or anything else that could ding the airplane. One person can push it, stop it, put the breaks on, release and pull it back.
The 140-foot ramp destined for JFK will allow JetBlue to operate out of one terminal building while another is renovated. Three Timber Products trucks will depart Monday, carrying the ramp across the country. It's scheduled to be reassembled beginning April 4.
We've never missed a delivery date, Keith says. Dates are a real sensitive issue for airlines because a lot of times they will need a ramp to start up a station because they fly people in for training.
Landgrebe says airlines have had to depend on spendy stairs and unreliable chair lifts. Wheelchair-bound passengers are raised on forklift-like machines through the plane's provisioning door.
There's not a big market for the wheelchair lift and virtually anyone manufacturing them has stopped building them because of the liability associated with it, Landgrebe says. And they're constantly breaking down.
While evolving major airports and some regional airports have installed air bridges over the decades, others don't have them and won't in the future.
Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., and nearby Long Beach Airport won't have them installed because of architectural restrictions, Keith says. Resort city airports in the Rockies want visitors to experience the mountain experience when they step out of the plane.
That means they're strolling down a KCI ramp.
We've taken the original ramp from the regional carriers and integrated into legacy carriers (larger traditional airlines) that had never thought about it before, Keith said. We've timed it with stopwatches on Alaska, JetBlue and SkyWest flights. We've been able to reduce deboarding time by 50 percent compared to stairs and lifts.