Growth Spurt

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Air Tech continues to expand

By Dale James / Selma Times – Journal

AirTech, a helicopter services firm headquartered at Craig Field, has announced its sixth acquisition in three years with the purchase of Ward Aerial Applicators of Vivian, La.

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Ward Aerial currently operates three helicopters in the forestry herbicide application business in the Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas markets.

According to AirTech President Leigh Allen, this latest acquisition will allow the company to expand its services to clients west of the Mississippi River. AirTech currently operates primarily in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

AirTech is owned and operated by Allen and partner Coyt Bailey. Bailey operates AirTech’s Mercury Aviation subsidiary office in Jackson, Miss., while Allen manages the company’s headquarters at Craig Field.

AirTech provides turnkey reforestation services for forest landowners throughout the Southeast, including helicopter herbicide application, controlled helicopter burning and tree planting.

Ward Aerial is the latest in a string of acquisitions for AirTech.

In 2000 Allen and Bailey purchased Mercury Aviation, which provides helicopter inspection, construction and maintenance services to electrical transmission companies across the country. Later that year they purchased Precision Air Services of Selma and moved their headquarters to Craig Field.

In 2001 the company bought Bonds Helicopter Service of Greensboro, as well as the forestry application assets of Rotor Wing of Birmingham and Valley Air of Bruce, Miss.

Allen said AirTech currently employs some 25 people at its Craig Field facility. The acquisition of Ward Aerial will bring the company up to 10 helicopters and add six jobs.

Most of those new employees will be in Louisiana and will consist of current Ward Aerial employees.

Large landowners such as Weyerhaeuser, Bowater and International Paper make up about half of the company’s customer base, with the other half consisting of private landowners. &uot;We have contracts for anywhere from 20 acres to 60,000 acres,&uot; Allen said.

The company’s history has been largely one of finding a need and filling it. When AirTech began operations in Mississippi there were no other companies providing helicopter services in that state.

The company began modestly enough by offering on-air coverage to local TV stations in Jackson.

AirTech helicopters provide aerial footage of the aftermath of just about every hurricane that hits the Gulf Coast. They also provided coverage of the USS Cole returning to port for repairs after being struck by a terrorist attack off the coast of Yemen.

From the glamour of live television coverage, the company branched out to the more mundane job of providing electrical transmission line inspections for various power companies. Then, filling yet another need, it began to offer herbicide spraying to keep down the undergrowth under those same transmission lines.

Today, despite a severe downturn in the timber market over the past two years, Allen said the company has been able to maintain its growth.

The company also continues to be generous in its praise for the facilities at Craig Field. &uot;It’s a great facility, great landlords … that’s why we’re here,&uot; Allen said. &uot;We’re lonely out here, though. We need some company.&uot;