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In 1989, former Hawker Siddeley and BAE aero engineer, John Romain took the brave step to bring his passion for vintage aircraft to life and founded his own company, a small business that was to become the now renowned Aircraft Restoration Company (ARC). Now a leader in its field, ARC has played a significant role in maintaining some of the UK’s most esteemed aircraft. We spoke to John about his career and the latest development that has propelled ARC to centre stage of the vintage aviation industry.

John’s love for flying stems back to his childhood, when the classic film, The Battle of Britain changed his life forever. He went on to build a career at British Aerospace in Hatfield, where he started as an apprentice. During this time, he dedicated his weekends to volunteering at Duxford, which in the late 1970s, was a derelict airfield that was largely used for storing static aircraft for the Imperial War Museum.

Today, ARC has flourished into one of the world’s largest restoration and maintenance specialists which, from its historic base at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, has became increasingly renowned for keeping vintage planes in flight on an international scale.

In 1981, John left British Aerospace and embarked on a full-time career at Duxford, working for a private owner who was restoring a Bristol Blenheim – a light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company, which was used extensively in the first two years of the Second World War. It was during this time that John learnt to fly on the instruction of ex-RAF pilots – a skill that was to be key as events determined the next stage of his career. John says, “The Blenheim was lost during an air show incident so I took the opportunity to study for my commercial flying licence, considering that working within the airlines was a safer option!”

Upon completion of his commercial flying licence in 1989, John found that there was little work in the commercial airline industry and returned to Duxford. There, he found that there was strong demand for his engineering talents which, combined with his insight into historic aircraft were an increasingly rare skillset – despite growing widespread appreciation for historic military aircraft. John rapidly carved a reputation for maintaining Duxford’s expanding fleet of military aircraft and soon built a series of businesses under the ARC umbrella. Today, ARC has flourished into one of the world’s largest restoration and maintenance specialists which, from its historic base at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, has became increasingly renowned for keeping vintage planes in flight on an international scale.

The report includes inspiring interviews with major donors, including:

 

·         Sir Jackie Stewart, three-time Formula 1 world champion

·         Lloyd Dorfman CBE, entrepreneur and Chairman of The Prince’s Trust

·         Nadja Swarovski, member of the Executive Board at the Swarovski Group

·         André Hoffmann, Vice Chairman of Roche Holdings

·         Anna Southall OBE, fourth-generation family trustee of the Barrow Cadbury Trust

 

We also outline some top tips for philanthropists, drawing on the experience of major donors and our philanthropy experts in the Coutts Institute [link: www.coutts.com/couttsinstitute].

 

We’ve been producing the report since 2008 to celebrate and inspire philanthropy and provide insight into major giving in the UK and internationally. While the report focuses on major giving, it provides food for thought for anyone involved with charitable endeavours at every level. 

The report includes inspiring interviews with major donors, including:

 

·         Sir Jackie Stewart, three-time Formula 1 world champion

·         Lloyd Dorfman CBE, entrepreneur and Chairman of The Prince’s Trust

·         Nadja Swarovski, member of the Executive Board at the Swarovski Group

·         André Hoffmann, Vice Chairman of Roche Holdings

·         Anna Southall OBE, fourth-generation family trustee of the Barrow Cadbury Trust

 

We also outline some top tips for philanthropists, drawing on the experience of major donors and our philanthropy experts in the Coutts Institute [link: www.coutts.com/couttsinstitute].

 

We’ve been producing the report since 2008 to celebrate and inspire philanthropy and provide insight into major giving in the UK and internationally. While the report focuses on major giving, it provides food for thought for anyone involved with charitable endeavours at every level. 

insights_hangar_aircraft

In 2016 John decided to take ARC to a new level and build a hangar from which his team could invest its skills in another celebrated emblem of British aviation history – the Lancaster Bomber. John explains, “The hangar was needed for growth, however we had been awarded the contract from the Royal Air Force to carry out maintenance on the Lancaster bomber. This would not fit into our current hangar and so we needed to build another, larger unit.”

Although John had the go ahead to maintain the RAF’s sole remaining airworthy Lancaster bomber, funding to erect a hangar to accommodate it had the potential to be a challenge, as he sought specialist finance not only for the new hangar but to purchase his own Spitfire. Additionally, circumstances had provided the opportunity for him to buy out his long-standing business partner – which he was keen to do. Timing also worked against him, as John adds, “When we were looking for financial help, it was after the financial crash and so banks and institutions were very nervous about lending.”

John approached his Coutts Executives Private Banker and ARC’s business banking team within Coutts Commercial who teamed up with Coutts Commercial Real Estate’s specialists to scope out the best funding solutions for every aspect of his needs. Given the complexity of his lending objectives, the team drafted in experts from RBS’s Lombard Aviation team. Together, they looked beyond standard lending policies and devised a flexible and innovative funding solution through which John could achieve his objectives – on a personal and a professional level.

"we have the oldest flying Spitfire here and the only remaining Bristol Blenheim in the world”

Five years on, and the hangar is a proud feature on the airfield at the Imperial War Museum Duxford. John reflects on the many hurdles that they faced from conception to construction. “There were a great number of obstacles ranging from planning consent and agreeing leases with the Imperial War Museum through to conservation areas and soil contamination, to name but a few. The whole project has taken five years,” he explains. “The building was the easy bit – but it was all the pre-build that took the time.”

Today, the ARC hangars house some of the most esteemed aircraft in British history. “Some of them are very rare – for instance, we have the oldest flying Spitfire here and the only remaining Bristol Blenheim in the world. We have a large collection that is partly customer and company owned and there are a multitude of types and examples of British, German and American aircraft that we are lucky to be working on.”

John and his team use increasingly rare techniques to construct planes from wreckage. With 60 flying spitfires in existence across the world, ARC’s on-going apprentice programme can be credited with supplying the industry with experts with the skillset that is vital in keeping these aircraft alive – while fostering the talent within the next generation of engineers and pilots. 

As the planes become increasingly sought after, so, too, do the parts they need for maintenance. John explains, “As well as housing the aircraft, the hangar is home to our very large collection of special tooling, jigs and ground equipment that the engineers need to do their jobs and keep these planes flying. We have thousands of parts at the ready to use,” he says. And when they run out? John’s dedicated engineering design and drawing teams are on hand to supply ARC’s in-house machine shop and manufacture those parts they don’t have access to.

We ask John what the future holds for his new venture, and it is clear that he is keen to open the doors and give other plane enthusiasts a glimpse of the home-grown aircraft. “Central to the new hangar is a viewing gallery that we built so we can share the work that we do with the public.” And with the Lancaster Bomber being a key staple within the world-famous Battle of Britain memorial flight, we can expect visitors to Duxford will take full advantage of the chance to look at this much-loved part of our military history.

 

Learn more about The Aircraft Restoration Company >

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