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San Antonio Company Takes Flight, Triples Space, Looks To Double Workforce

A Boeing C-17 Globemaster in flight. These among other large cargo planes are the canvas for Knight Aerospace's work.

A San Antonio aerospace company that focuses on building rooms and seating for cargo planes tripled in space and looks to double in size.

Eighteen months ago, Knight Aerospace made some changes. For 27 years the company has built galleys, lavatories and entire rooms that could be mounted inside mammoth cargo planes like the C-130 Hercules. Its customers are largely military, in countries like Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar and 22 others.

While it still manufactures those product lines, they added medical bays to their offerings, self-contained emergency rooms where doctors can begin treating and operating on patients.

"And then you have a hospital in the air, and when you finish the mission you can roll that off and a cargo aircraft is ready to go on its next mission," said Bianca Rhodes, Knight Aerospace CEO.

Credit Courtesy Knight Aerospace
A C-130 being loaded with one of Knight Aerospace's modules.

It announced Wednesday the company would move into 120,000 sq. ft. at Port San Antonio, and it may expand further to accommodate the growth. The move triples the company's footprint and includes offices, research and development space, offices and fabrication space.

The company more than doubled their staff from 20 to 57 in the last 18 months and expects to double again to more than 100 in the next 18 months.

The original plan was not to grow in San Antonio though. Rhodes was concerned about finding those additional hires.

“The San Antonio workforce has become very, very tight,” Rhodes said. “As a small business it’s really hard for us to compete for our workforce.”

She credited the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation and Port San Antonio’s efforts connecting them local workforce development resources at Alamo Colleges, Alamo Academies, the city, as well as some school districts with allaying her workforce concerns.

Credit Knight Aerospace
Knight Aerospace
Rendering of Knight Aerospace's Medical Module. The first of these rolls off the production line soon.

“Short term, yes there is going to be tightening on that string, but there’s tightening on that string everywhere,” said Jim Perschbach, CEO at Port San Antonio. But he said the area was ahead of the curve on regearing its workforce programs.

“Long term — as we provide more opportunities — we have a tremendous number of really great, really capable people in this community who are going to step up and make us successful for the next 100 years,” he said.

Rhodes also credited the Port San Antonio’s flexibility on space and other lease aspects as one reason the company stayed in San Antonio. The Port had ample reason to want the company as well. It isn’t the first time the company has leased space at the Port. In 2013 in took on some temporary space.

“We’ve talked about in the past that we want to be nose to tail on aviation,” Perschbach said.

Credit Knight Aerospace
Knight Aerospace
Knight Aerospace currently resides in a 40,000 square foot space. The move to the Port will triple its size.

In addition to the jobs, they will bring the company’s business model improving legacy aircraft with their soon-to-release med bays and other state of the art technology. It dovetails with the messaging the Port has pushed for the better part of two years that the it wants to be the place where legacy industry like aviation goes to meet innovation.

Knight hopes to make the federal government a larger client. It has been awarded a handful of contracts for lavatory, seating, portable cranes and other systems. The move also puts the company closer to current partners like StandardAero, as well as potential collaborators at Northrop Grumman or Boeing.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org