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Friday, June 27, 2014

A conversation with Tom Grace

By Molly McMillin
The Wichita Eagle

Growing up, Tom Grace, senior vice president of product development for CAMP Systems International in Wichita, spent almost as much time keeping his family’s boat and snowmobile running as he did using them.

Over the years, that early interest in mechanics has served him well.

At CAMP, Grace helps develop products that help aircraft owners and operators keep track of maintenance schedules and requirements, as well as compliances and legalities that keep their planes flying and airworthy.

The company customizes computerized maintenance schedules for customers ranging from individual owners to flight departments.

Aircraft range from turboprops to large, transport-category aircraft.

Manufacturers and regulatory agencies continually issue revisions and advisories. CAMP keeps track of the changes and applies them to the aircraft’s schedules.

The company, based in Ronkonkoma, in Long Island, N.Y., opened a Wichita office about 10 years ago after it secured a contract with Bombardier’s Learjet plant. Hawker Beechcraft and Cessna Aircraft followed.

One of the latest new services is monitoring the health and performance of business jet engines. Grace is head of that business segment.

The company employs 425 worldwide, including about 60 in Wichita.

Grace, 53, grew up in the Forest Lake area in Minnesota, and became an aircraft mechanic in the Army.

After the military, Grace joined Air Methods Corp. He moved to Wichita 12 years ago to work at Cessna Aircraft and joined CAMP Systems two years ago.

Grace holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Phoenix and a graduate degree in information technology from Friends University.

Grace and his wife, Colette, have one daughter, Makayla.

How is CAMP Systems different from its competitors?

A lot of our competitors base their business model on being a software tool where folks can do it themselves.

In terms of market size, we track about 16,000 aircraft that qualify for our service. Of them, about 13,200 are current subscribers. We don’t expect them to do it themselves. It’s a huge task to align all of the ever-changing requirements coming out of the OEMs, (original equipment manufacturers), subtier OEMs, like engine suppliers … Mix that with the regulatory authorities. It’s a huge task to keep up …. It’s just not cost effective to do it themselves.

What do you like best about your job?

I follow this data that we have. We really know a whole heck of a lot about the industry, not just about the compliance and safety things we can do for it.

CAMP Systems is updating its capabilities. What are you doing?

We’re working right now to help our manufacturing partners with reliability information.

What will the manufacturers do with that information?

They’ll turn around and use it to help redesign future aircraft to make sure they’re more maintainable, and the cost to operate them goes down.

You also work with service facilities to help them segment their market share to determine where and how to grow. How so?

If you’re providing maintenance for owner-operators for aircraft, and you’re trying to decide how to grow it, you can start to look at the type of customer you get and say, what’s the probability of them coming to me for certain types of maintenance? Are they coming for warranty work, for scheduled maintenance? By segmenting their customer base, they can better plan for how they can increase their business.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Right now, it’s on the talent side. There are a lot of talented people in Wichita and around. But it’s getting people who kind of understand the potential of this business and bring not just talent but passion.

There’s a lot of folks that I think they get kind of generic on the IT side with IT degrees. They’re just looking for a job. We try to weed out and find folks that also have aviation experience and are excited about aviation. It’s hard to find the right mix.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com

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