Dakota Air Parts Intl., Inc. (aka Dakota) has been serving the operators around the globe by supplying their requirements that range from smaller consumables up to entire aircraft like the Bell UH-1 “Huey” helicopters since 1994. The Fargo-based company has over 40,000 square feet of warehouse space filled with aviation essentials. NDTO had the opportunity to connect with Shawn Johnston, General Manager, and Maddie Hanson, the Trade Show Coordinator. Dakota has continued to grow since its founding through strategic business partnerships both domestically and internationally.
Dakota Air Parts and its strategic partners specialize in the buying, selling, and support of rotor-wing and fixed-wing aircraft, turbine engines, and parts – OEM & aftermarket. Supported platforms include: UH-1 “Huey,” OH-58 “Kiowa,” OH-6 “Cayuse,” Bell 206, 204/205, 212, 412, 407, MD 500 series, Honeywell T53 and T55 engines, and Rolls-Royce M250 series turbine engines. Dakota routinely purchases surplus aircraft, engines, and aviation inventories which are brought to its warehouses, inventoried, marketed, and resold.
“While we support a wide range of aircraft including commercial aircraft and business jets, our niche,” Johnston explains, ”is rotor-wing and, more specifically, ex-military aircraft. Our customer base ranges from government and military operations, police, commercial uses in agriculture, forestry, and firefighting – and then there is the occasional individual who has one as personal aircraft.”
Helicopters, when properly maintained, have a long lifespan. For example, Dakota purchased a fleet of UH-1 Iroquois from the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 2016, a fleet that had been in operation for nearly 50 years. The aircraft, parts, tooling, and equipment to keep the fleet operational were all purchased by Dakota, who in turn used this material to support other UH-1 operators with the items they needed to continue to operate and maintain this durable platform.
Keeping a stockpile of parts, Johnston explains, is part of Dakota’s success because OEM’s and repair facilities often have limited inventories. Dakota can provide those parts on short notice if needed. “A good example of this is when a firefighting crew is operating and they need to replace a flight-critical part. Sometimes a needed part isn’t available from the manufacturer until months in the future. Those guys can’t wait, and that is where we come in,” says Johnston. Hanson adds, “and because we have been in business so long, people know who we are and what we do. Dakota has an excellent, loyal customer base.“ Inventory and how quickly parts can turn around is always top-of-mind for the team. With their advanced software and infrastructure, they can track parts and orders and do business all over the world in real-time.
Although the company did not start off exporting, there was a substantial market for it, and the team at Dakota jumped right in. There are many opportunities worldwide for supporting aircraft operators ranging from governments to private owners. Their advice to exporters is to be as detail-oriented as possible. Johnston advised, “one small thing that should have taken an hour could turn into days or weeks of your time. Come into exporting with specific, detailed questions, even if they seem like silly questions.” The more information you know upfront, like how the shipping works, what is needed to get items off the vessels, at what point are you getting paid, are all excellent questions to ask. The team remembers when a shipment was ready for pick-up, and although there was a forklift, there was no one there to operate the machine. “What a learning experience!” said Hanson. Each set of questions will be different, and for Dakota, it is highly dependent on the product, says Johnston, “much of our inventory gets shipped by common carriers like FedEx or UPS, but then we ship whole helicopters too. There is a different set of requirements and a whole round of questions each time.”
With the pandemic reducing global travel and events, it has been challenging to meet with existing and potential customers. Trade shows are an important part of Dakota’s business, but many shows of interest have either been postponed or canceled altogether. With new virtual platforms available, the company has tried a few different options, “I don’t think we quite got what we wanted [from the virtual trade shows]. We are based on relationship building, which is more challenging in a virtual space,” says Hanson. According to Hanson, some of the virtual activities have been great practice for the business development team. Johnston adds that “the trade shows have been difficult. Not being able to meet in person is a challenge, and I don’t know if anyone has figured it all out yet.” This can be especially hard for companies with a diverse range of products to offer. ”Dakota is hard to define sometimes. At trade shows, people will accidentally stop by our booth, and we get to talking, then we find opportunities. With the virtual platforms, this is more difficult,” explains Johnston.
Dakota is looking ahead as they expand into business jet inventory and different types of aircraft. The next steps will help with diversification while continuing to support rotor-wing platforms like the UH-1 will help make Dakota Air Parts more sustainable overall.
For more information about Dakota Air Parts, please visit www.dakotaairparts.com.