Jenkins’ tour takes flight with local stop
By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 12/16/2013
RANTOUL — With more than 5 million aircraft parts and 200,000 square feet of warehouse space, Dodson International Parts Inc. offered U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., a glimpse into one of the premiere aviation parts companies in the world.
The Congresswoman was winging her way Monday through Franklin County as part of a tour to meet with business owners throughout the Congressional Second District during the next few weeks, she said. One of her first stops brought her to the southern outskirts of Rantoul to meet with JR Dodson, chief executive officer of Dodson International, and Donielle Dodson, Web project manager, and take a tour of the business at 2155 Vermont Road.
“I want to get to as many small and large businesses in the Second District as I can during the next few weeks,” Jenkins said.
While one aspect of her job is to work on public policy in Washington, D.C., Jenkins said, the other part is to meet with residents in the 2nd District to see what issues concern them, so she can take that information back to Washington.
Jenkins is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, the chief tax writing committee in the House. The Congresswoman told Dodson’s oldest son, Nick, that the committee currently is rewriting the tax code in a way that she hopes will be more business friendly to encourage economic growth and create more jobs.
Dodson International has dismantled more than 3,000 aircraft from across the world, and warranty and traceability is available on most items, according to the company’s website. The company receives numerous phone calls and email messages each day from people in locations around the globe in search of aviation parts, Donielle Dodson said.
“Ninety-five percent of our sales are out of state, with 30 percent of that out of the country,” JR Dodson said.
He explained that the aircraft parts business is similar to auto salvage in that the company salvages every piece of a plane that still could be used. But aviation salvage work is much more complex and high tech, Dodson said, because the company must be able to track the history of each part, including documenting maintenance work. That documentation can be quite extensive, depending on the plane, he said.
The company might acquire a Cessna that has one envelope filled with documentation or it could acquire a commercial airliner with enough documents to fill 11 boxes, he said as an example.
“Is the federal government doing anything that is causing you to lose sleep at night?” Jenkins asked Dodson as they walked down a long row of aircraft parts.
Some discussions have taken place — though nothing concrete to this point — about the Federal Aviation Administration changing regulations so that all parts from damaged aircraft would have to be thrown away, Dodson said.
“Of course, that would be detrimental to our business, but I also think it would be foolish [to waste good parts],” Dodson said.
He explained that many of the parts harvested from damaged aircraft still are in excellent shape.
Dodson International is not the only aircraft parts business in the country, Dodson said, but he told Jenkins what separates the company from its competitors is that it salvages and sells parts from all planes — single engine to commercial aircraft — as well as helicopters.
Jenkins asked Dodson how the company had fared since the economic downturn in 2008. Dodson International actually has done well in tough times, Dodson said, because a lot of buyers are looking for a quality used part rather than buying new parts as a cost-savings measure. The company also has seen an increase in the number of planes it has acquired that were repossessed by banks.
“We’ve seen a large increase [in repossessed planes] in the past five years,” Dodson said.
Despite the company’s ability to navigate through stormy economic times, Dodson International’s sales did take an initial hit after the downturn in 2008, he told Jenkins.
“We had about a 30-percent drop [in sales] overnight, and we had to build that back up,” he said.
Dodson told Jenkins the company employs about 50 workers who live within about a one-hour driving radius of the business, which is situated on 120 acres, according to the company website.
On a driving tour of the grounds to look at rows of aircraft fuselages — including a Jet Commander craft once owned by John Wayne — Dodson explained how the aircraft are drained of all fuel and fluids before they are brought to the grounds, eliminating any possible environmental concerns.
As they continued to wind through rows of planes, Dodson, who has a commercial pilot’s license, talked with Jenkins about Kansas’ dominance in the aviation industry and said most Kansans probably don’t think about how important aviation is to the state’s economy.
“Aviation [industry] is one of Kansas’ largest exports,” he said of the aircraft, avionics and other products that are made in Kansas and sold across the world. “I know you realize that, but it would be nice if more [lawmakers] in Washington knew it too.”
Jenkins told Dodson she was impressed with his company. The Congresswoman was planning to look at a DC-3 plane at Dodson Aviation Inc., 2110 Montana Road, a company owned by his father, Bob Dodson, next to the Ottawa Municipal Airport, before traveling to her next stop in Melvern.
Dodson International started in a 40-foot-by-60 foot hay barn in Ottawa in 1980 as a division of Dodson Aviation, Dodson said.
“I had a desk and a rotary phone,” he said, chuckling. “We became a separate company in 1984 and now have over 200,000 square feet of warehouse space.”
Jenkins looked at Dodson and smiled. “You’ve come a long way.”