Kenmore Air is the world’s second largest seaplane operator, with their main base of operations located just northeast of Seattle (in Kenmore) and just a few miles away from where I live. I have had a few opportunities to fly their seaplanes, but I have always been wanting to take a closer look at their operations and learn a bit more about how they keep their 18 seaplanes going.
When I heard that they just recently opened up a brand-new maintenance hangar, I figured that this would be a great excuse to get a behind-the-scenes tour. I went in, not fully knowing what to expect, but found out quite a bit about the planes, the facility, and the people that make it all happen.
Upon arriving, I was met by Rob Richie, who is the Director of Maintenance. He asked what I wanted to see and I explained I wanted to know more about what makes Kenmore Air tick (literally and figuratively).
When I asked him how long he had worked for Kenmore, he told me, “not that long,” followed by saying, “about 15 years.” Turns out that many working there feel the company is more like a family than just a job.
Rob was extremely knowledgeable about everything related to Kenmore Air, as well as each of the planes that were there. Yes, seeing the airplanes, the engines, and smelling the oil were all wonderful, but hearing the stories and connecting with the aircraft was, no question, the best part of the tour.
Our first stop was the old “T” hangar, which used to be the main repair facility. When I made my visit, there were still planes under different stages of re-work. Some were there for standard maintenance, but another was a recovered total loss, requiring a bit more work.
Kenmore Air doesn’t just work on its own planes; actually, quite the opposite. A big part of their business is working on other seaplanes and providing parts for aircraft that are located around the world. Be it the smaller nut to something most substantial, Kenmore Air rarely says, “no,” to finding a solution.
When restoring an aircraft, a part might be missing or unrepairable. Sometimes it can be purchased, but for many of these aircraft, new parts haven’t been made in years. Often, Kenmore will fabricate their own parts, have them certified, and use them to get planes flying again.
When Kenmore finds “new” (sometimes made in the 1960s, but never used) parts, they purchase them, preserving and selling them to potential customers. They have a pretty extensive collection.
The only two things that they really won’t do on their own: propellers and major electronics. Neither are really cost-effective to do themselves.
While there is no runway located at their Kenmore facility, their maintenance work is not limited to just seaplanes. If someone wants their land-based aircraft fixed, or to have floats attached, they will likely land in Renton and have their plane barged up Lake Washington to Kenmore.
One of the challenges Kenmore faced with the older hangars was getting the larger Otters inside. The airline had to take off their wings to get them in the hangar, which took extra time.
The new hangar not only allows an Otter to be worked on, with wings still attached, but multiple Otters can be under repair all at the same time within the hangar.
The new hangar is a major improvement for Kenmore, their operations, and potential future growth. Rob wasn’t even sure of all the benefits they would experience, until… well… they experienced them.
Throughout the years, almost every Kenmore employee that I have met has had a close family-like bond with the organization. It is like being part of a cool family that owns a bunch of seaplanes.
So next time you view a seaplane flying around somewhere, know that a piece of it might have come from Kenmore. Of course, if you are flying on a Kenmore Air aircraft, know that there is a great team (and facilities) making sure you arrive safely.