June 24, 2018
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Airplane float manufacturer gets back in the air with new products

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Updated:

LINCOLN, Maine — Levi Guimond didn’t think he’d ever again work at PK Floats when it closed three years ago.

The owner of the business, Alton Bouchard, had just died, and the people who made the place go were coping with the loss and the need to get new jobs, Guimond recalled.

It’s a very unique company,” Guimond, a 28-year-old manufacturing engineer from Lee, said. “I figured the chances of somebody coming in and running it here were nil. There aren’t that many places building this kind of product. The flying community that uses these kinds of floats is very small.”

Yet as of last week, the company had regained its Federal Aviation Administration certification to build airplane floats, had already built or sold half the 20 sets of floats planned for 2016 and was in the process of expanding its product line to include airplane snow-skis and two new kinds of airplane floats, according to Patrick McGowan, a former Maine conservation commissioner, legislator and Democratic candidate for governor who is president of the company.

The certification came on Jan. 14 — relatively quick, considering the company started to regroup in September and such documentation can take years to qualify for, McGowan said.

“I don’t know how we could have gotten off to a better start than we have,” McGowan said.

PK Floats’ successful rebirth and expansion off Flyaway Drive fit well with town plans to turn land adjacent to Flyaway and the town airport near West Broadway into an industrial park, according to Ruth Birtz, the town’s economic development coordinator.

Emera Maine workers finished installing three-phase power at the airport for PK’s use in manufacturing airplane skis about two weeks ago, Birtz said. The Town Council voted 7-0 in September to allocate as much as $65,000 to pay for the installation, which will also service other businesses. The final bill for the work hasn’t come in yet.

The installation, town officials have said, is part of plans to add public water and wastewater service to River Road, both key steps to developing the industrial park, airport and River Road, a largely undeveloped stretch of land between West Broadway and Chester and Interstate 95’s Exit 227.

The company plans to add two workers to its 11-member staff to manufacture airplane skis with a subcompany, Kehler Ski of British Columbia, starting in March or April. That’s up from seven workers in September. If all goes well, PK could have 15 to 20 workers in the next two or three years because of new products and increased sales, according to Keith Strange, PK’s production manager.

“We’d like to see employment double, and we’d like to see [the construction of] a potential new facility, but that’s all based on projections of new products and float sales,” McGowan said. “We’re very hopeful. The response has been outstanding.”

Within the next few months, the company will start selling airplanes as well as floats. They will be operating on Bouchard’s observation the company’s floats — which cost $24,950 to $76,500 per pair, according to pkfloats.com — sell better when they are attached to airplanes, McGowan said.

But McGowan said he is cautious.

There’s no way, he said, to know how much the production of new floats is result of the company’s three-year shutdown or represents sustained growth. The sales market can be erratic, and airplane floats and skis are part of a relatively small niche in the aviation marketplace, McGowan said.

The company has about 1,400 sets of floats in use worldwide, which makes it among the world’s most prolific manufacturers of airplane floats, he said.

“We’re going slowly. We can’t go rushing into the market and not meet customers’ expectations,” McGowan said, “but we know that we’ve got a good customer base out there. We’re going to go slowly and see how things go. But, yeah, I’m excited.”

 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified McGowan as the company’s owner.


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