Former TAM A320 seen in blue. Two former Avianca birds, an MD-83 and a Fokker F100.

Former TAM A320 seen in blue. Two former Avianca birds, an MD-83 and a Fokker F100. Photo by JL Johnson

This is the first in a series of posts I have planned with a focus on the Midwest’s impact on aviation. Dismissed as flyover country by some, much of aviation’s history occurred right here in the middle of the US. It’s not just the past we will be exploring- the Midwest is very much involved in aviation today, and is well positioned to support the evolution of aviation in the future. Join me as we explore the facets of aviation, right here from the heart of America.

What is Jet Midwest? They are a full service MRO (maintenance repair overhaul) firm that is also involved in the purchasing, painting, leasing and recycling of planes.

When Jet Midwest buys planes they are overhauled, leased and/or sold, or parted out.  It’s a sad day when a flying machine meets its demise.  However, at Jet Midwest, through the sacrifice of one plane, dozens or hundreds more across the globe are able to stay in service.  Their motto for what they do: “Parts to Planes.”

I was recently invited out to tour their huge facility on the southeast corner of the Kansas City International Airport property. The 2.4 million square foot facility, formerly of American Airlines and before that TWA, has hangars that can store multiple 747s, with many more narrow bodies between.

Multiple aircraft waiting to be worked on. Photo by JL Johnson.

Multiple aircraft waiting to be worked on. Photo by JL Johnson.

On the day that I visited, they had more than 20 planes on-site in various conditions. To say the assortment was diverse is an understatement, second only to something you would see at MHV or another boneyard. The planes were of five different makes in nine variants, and hailed from ten airlines, from eight countries.

The tour was led by Erik Hanvelt (VP operations) and Ron Pye (SVP business development) and began with a walk through of the administrative offices. These offices were particularly special since they were staffed with bonafide AvGeeks which was apparent through their decor.  Old airline signs, models, posters, pieces of planes, each office jam packed with more airline memorabilia and aviation art than the last.

As a Sr. Business Analyst by trade, I visit a lot of different companies, none are staffed with folks as passionate about their business as those at Jet Midwest. As one employee quipped, “Once there’s avgas in your blood, you’re nuts like the rest of us!”

MCI Airport Public Information officer is seen here taking the Jet Midwest CEO’s golf cart for a spin, with Avgeeks in tow.

MCI Airport Public Information officer is seen here taking the Jet Midwest CEO’s golf cart for a spin, with Avgeeks in tow.

After we left the offices it became clear that mobility for the Jet Midwest employees could be an issue due to the sheer size of their footprint at Kansas City International. The remedy? Souped up golf carts, of course! We weaved between the various planes, some flight worthy, others well into the deconstruction process.

One former Avianca MD-83 (HK-4586, cn 49942/1799) was in a particularly advanced stage of deconstruction, stripped down to the fuselage, which was resting on the ground. Subtract the paint and one would be hard pressed to distinguish it from the fresh green fuselages of modern 737s that travel through KC from Wichita, on their way to Boeing in Washington.

Air Italy Boeing 767. Photo by JL Johnson.

Air Italy Boeing 767. Photo by JL Johnson.

Had time not been an issue I likely would have tried to crawl through each of their planes, but ended up touring a total of three: A former Delta (DL) 757-200, a former Southwest 737-200 and a 767-200 fresh off lease from Air Italy Group. The 757 (N637DL, cn 23760/171) was nearly stock from DL, having arrived only recently.  According to FlightAware.com, its last revenue flight was LAX-ATL on May 3.

VIP Boeing 737-200 that used to be a Southwest bird. Photo by JL Johnson.

VIP Boeing 737-200 that used to be a Southwest bird. Photo by JL Johnson.

VIP jet conversion left the former 737-200, (N500VP, cn 22062/640) absolutely indistinguishable from its Southwest airlines roots. The upgrade and retrofit took the seating capacity from over 100 single-class passengers to just a fraction of that.

Love the note to the side. Honored that I wasn't asked to remove my shoes.

Love the note to the side. Honored that I wasn’t asked to remove my shoes.

Plush leather seats, beautiful wood interiors, pop-up TVs and felt-covered sidewalls to reduce noise; this plane had it all. It’s rumored that a certain Mississippi born pop-star has charted this bird on at least one occasion.

The interior of the VIP Boeing 737-200. Photo by JL Johnson.

The interior of the VIP Boeing 737-200. Photo by JL Johnson.

While the entire tour was a highlight in itself, I particularly enjoyed seeing the Air Italy 767, (I-AIGI, cn 23974/214) which was exactly as it had been returned to Jet Midwest, still provisioned with Air Italy in-flight tchotchkes.

Tail of the old Boeing 767. Photo by JL Johnson.

Tail of the old Boeing 767 (I-AIGI). Photo by JL Johnson.

While the future of this plane has yet to be determined, it had a long life. This bird spent most of its life abroad with Air Mauritius, operating flights from the small island nation of the same name, located due east of Madagascar. During its time with Mauritius it carried registry 3B-NAL and then I-AIGI with the Air Italy Group.

The paint job shows the aircraft's age. Photo by JL Johnson.

The paint job shows the aircraft’s age. Photo by JL Johnson.

Kansas City area aviation employees and enthusiasts alike were saddened to see American Airlines further draw down its presence in the area by shuttering the MRO back in 2010. Looking back, the demise of the AA MRO was unavoidable. They had been dropping flights and reducing staff at the airport for a number of years. It seemed only a matter of time before the MRO base went too, if not from labor pressures and falling revenues, then likely from the then future bankruptcy.

Wide shot of additional aircraft at the facility. Photo by JL Johnson.

Wide shot of additional aircraft at the facility. Photo by JL Johnson.

But from that loss, Jet Midwest, and ultimately the area as a whole, benefited. The airport now has a strong, locally based tenant. Jet Midwest has a sizeable staff and continues to grow, which adds to the net-positive economic development effect of the airport. It’s worthy to note that Jet Midwest has hired back some of the former MRO employees from earlier lessees. We met one employee who had been at the site for over a decade with the various tenants.

Most of these planes have seen better days. Photo by JL Johnson.

Most of these planes have seen better days. Photo by JL Johnson.

The positives of Jet Midwest’s presence at Kansas City International are many. Of course we cannot forget about the niche group that I’m pleased to be part of: the plane spotters. Thanks to Jet Midwest, we are now delighted with a rotation of incredibly rare and diverse planes. One of the best highlights of being a spotter is being among the first to photograph a plane immediately before or after a major change.

With nearly every plane to visit Jet Midwest being drastically changed or recycled, there’s a constant buzz within the local aviation community regarding their activity. Of course there’s a special place in every AvGeek’s heart for a plane’s final flight. It’s an honor to witness these planes land one last time, ending their long careers, right here at Jet Midwest the heart of America: Kansas City, Missouri.

JL Johnson, Correspondent. JL is a twenty-something Sr. Business Analyst, semi-frequent traveler and lover of all things aviation. He’s based in Lee’s Summit, MO and attributes his love of aviation to his grandfather, a USAF Colonel who had him in “avgeek training” before he could walk. @User47 | AviationGeek.net | YouTube | Flickr | Instagram

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SENIOR CORRESPONDENT – LEE’S SUMMIT, MO. JL is a self described “medium shot” at a non-aviation industry Fortune-500. He’s a semi-frequent traveler, social media addict and avid planespotter. A proud Midwesterner, he’s based in Lee’s Summit, MO, a suburb of Kansas City. Email: jl@airlinereporter.com

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6 Comments

Very neat post! I wish I could have made it out there for that event! Also, I like the first paragraph about the midwest & aviation!

WOW! Way Cool! I was based at MCI years ago with TWA as a flight attendant/Flight Service Manager at Terminal II…..the TWA hanger there is still there from what I heard….wish I could have seen these neat airplanes for sure!!! Really miss flying! Great super story!

@Jaspreet- Thanks! The midwest is relevant, and that’s what I aim to prove. @Rob, sincere thanks for the comment. Hoping to cover TWA in a future post.

Yes, once aviation gets in your blood, you’re hooked. I’m thrilled that the MCI Overhaul Base was not left empty after the loss of TWA/AA. It has great potential and always will.

ron q Pye

What can I say Fantastic.

Bob Cowen

Many years ago I flew from Detroit to Phoenix on TWA with a stop in Kansas City (Wheeler MKC). It was a 727 and summer. We could not load enough fuel for the Kansas City – Phoenix leg (short runway) so we flew a few minutes to the TWA overhaul base. The airport was deserted (it was Sunday evening) and the pilot pulled up to a large closed hanger, lowered the air-stairs in the tail and walked over to the building. Shortly thereafter a fuel truck appeared. We departed for PHX with full tanks from a very quiet and lonely airport.

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