Business Monday

Transitioning into S. Florida’s aviation scene

ATR President Guillaume Gasparri in his office near Miami International Airport. ATR moved to Miami from Virginia in 2014 to expand its South American business.
ATR President Guillaume Gasparri in his office near Miami International Airport. ATR moved to Miami from Virginia in 2014 to expand its South American business. WLRN

When American Airlines reorganized in bankruptcy, it stopped flying planes made by the French-Italian manufacturer ATR. However, carriers in the Caribbean and Latin America continue to use them. FedEx also uses ATR planes for shorter express routes.

Despite losing American as a customer, in 2014, the company moved its North American headquarters from Dulles, Virginia, to Miami Springs and expanded its responsibilities to include South America.

ATR has two corporate parents: European consortium Airbus and Italian aerospace firm Alenia Aermacchi. It received a financial incentive package from Miami-Dade's economic development agency The Beacon Council and Florida Enterprise. After months of negotiations, the relocation was announced in June 2013, days after company executives met local and state officials at the Paris Air Show, a global aviation gathering.

WLRN’s the Sunshine Economy recently spoke with ATR Americas President Guillaume Gasparri about the transition into South Florida’s aviation industry.

Q. What have you found in the aviation industry that attracted you to Miami and that you hope to be able to take advantage of here that you didn’t see in Virginia?

A: We decided to join the North American and South American markets under the same umbrella. Miami was a logical choice since Miami is the hub for all of these areas. We can serve our Canadian customer, our North American customer, our Central American and South American customer from this hub.

Even before [that], we decided to put our stock of spare [parts] in Miami. So we regrouped activities in Miami, the stock management and the office because of this perfect geographic location and the fact that Miami [International] Airport is a natural hub to serve all of these nations.

Q: Have you found the kind of environment to grow that South American business?

A: Actually it was one of my main surprises when we decided to move. I did the first evaluation of the location to an office. I was quite surprised — I have to be honest with you, I didn’t know how Miami was really an industrial hub when we talk about aeronautic activities.

One of our main concerns was the capability to find good employees with good skills, good training. We were quite surprised that it was very easy to find … very good quality people. In addition, [finding] people who can speak English and Spanish and Portuguese. It was a very good surprise because I didn’t expect Miami to be such an aeronautic hub.

Q: What fed into your lower expectations?

A: Unfortunately my employees in Virginia decided not to come to Miami. Miami still has a bad reputation with people in the North.

Q: Was that a disappointment to you when announcing the corporate headquarters is moving but your employees in Virginia decided to stay there for various reasons?

A: In France, we have some ideas about the U.S. We believe that in [the U.S.] people are very mobile. You have your U-Haul trailer attached to your car and you can move from one town to another one. It was a big surprise for me that among the 20 people who I had in Virginia, only three people decided to move. When we launched this hiring campaign, we received hundreds of resumes of people with tremendous, interesting and impressive résumés. We didn’t have any problems finding people [here].

Q: Where do you think your idea of Miami business came from prior to you becoming part of the aviation industry in South Florida?

A: First, do not forget I am French, so we maybe [have a] strange idea [about Miami]. Yes Miami is seen more as a destination for tourism and for real estate. We have to confess that we didn’t have this idea of Miami being an aeronautic cluster. A lot of European companies have actually decided to move here because they made exactly the same analysis as we did.

Q: How is business in South America?

A: We manufacture small turbo prop aircraft from 40 to around 70 seats. This aircraft typically caters to regional operations. This aircraft is most appreciated for countries which are developing the travel [industry]. It’s a reason why we are very successful in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia [and] in the Caribbean area.

We are also very successful in Canada because Canada has a lot of operators operating mining companies who need this kind of aircraft to go to a remote area.

We are less successful than we hoped to be in re-entering the business in the U.S. We were successful a long time ago with American Airlines, but with the [bankruptcy reorganization] of American Airlines, they decided to get rid of turbo prop aircraft. We believe we have opportunities to re-enter the U.S. market. It will take time.

Guillaume Gasparri

Career: He has been ATR Americas president since April 1, 2008. Before that, he was vice president of sales at Airbus Helicopters. Previously he spent 14 years in Asia with Thales and Airbus Group.

Personal: Born in 1960, married, with three children.

Education: Graduated from ENSTA Bretagne, a French engineering school, with a degree that’s equivalent to a master’s of science/engineering in the U.S. system.

Interests: Baroque music, kick-boxing, fencing coach, diving.

About ATR: ATR (Aerei da Trasporto Regionale or Avions de Transport Régional), a French-Italian aircraft manufacturer headquartered in Blagnac, France. It was formed in 1981 by Aérospatiale of France (now Airbus Group) and Aeritalia (now AleniaAermacchi) of Italy. Its primary products are the ATR 42 and the ATR 72 aircraft. Both are twin-turboprop, short-haul, regional airliners. The ATR Americas division moved from Dulles, Virginia, to Miami Springs in 2014.

Address: 4355 NW 36th St., Miami Springs. It has 28 full-time employees and generates $25 million in annual revenue.