Interview with Samir Mehta of Collins Aerospace

Sami Mehta
Rising to the challenge

AirMed&Rescue interviewed Samir Mehta, President of Collins Aerospace’s Mechanical Systems strategic business unit, to find out more about the company’s current efforts to meet the needs of customers around the world

You recently attended the Paris Air Show – was that a successful event for you and the company?

Absolutely! I had great discussions with customers and suppliers throughout the show, and our product display featured a number of Mechanical Systems offerings, including our actuation systems, military lock-ring wheel and carbon brake, active sidesticks and NP2000 propeller. We also announced that we had been awarded a contract by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) to support NP2000 propeller upgrades for 24 Lockheed Martin C-130H aircraft for the US Air National Guard (ANG).

Mechanical Systems has three sites near Paris (Figeac, Vernon and Saint-Ouen l’Aumône), and our employees from those locations had the opportunity to attend the show. Afterwards, I also visited our Saint-Ouen site, where we design and manufacture actuation systems, and hoist and winch products.

We want to move beyond basic engineering and final assembly to more complex operations

Collins Aerospace is now a very large company with a huge business portfolio – where does your role fit into the firm, and what are your primary responsibilities? How do the different departments ensure cohesive working practices?

Collins Aerospace combines the strengths of our legacy companies, UTC Aerospace Systems and Rockwell Collins, along with those of our parent company, United Technologies. Collins has the scale, strength and technical resources to redefine aerospace. By coming together, we have access to a whole new array of technical resources that we can use to further strengthen the design and engineering behind our products and accelerate our development cycles.

The company is divided into six business units and as President of Mechanical Systems, I oversee a multibillion-dollar portfolio that includes actuation, propellers, landing systems, cargo systems, and hoist and winch. The sheer breadth of our business across commercial and military systems, fixed wing and rotorcraft, creates a lot of excitement as we work to redefine aerospace with offerings that are more intelligent, more connected and more electric.

mechanics

Mechanical Systems also has several thousand employees, including a significant number based at locations outside the US. Navigating different cultures and time zones can be a challenge, but if there’s one thing that unifies all our employees, it’s a relentless focus on execution and customer satisfaction.

You worked at UTAS before its integration into Collins Aerospace – what benefits has it brought being part of a larger group of companies?

With lives on the line, there is no margin for error and we must ensure that our products and solutions are always built to the highest standards

Increasingly, both our commercial and military customers expect us to provide more than just products; they expect us to provide integrated, system-level solutions. And at the same time, they also expect us to invest more of our own R&D funds in the development of such solutions.

Coming together with Rockwell Collins helps further both objectives. As a combined company, we have more talent, technology and resources that we can bring to bear when working with our customers to help them achieve their goals. With such comprehensive capabilities under one roof, we can do things in house that would typically require co-ordination among multiple companies, thus removing the need for discussion around things like who takes the lead. This allows us to focus on the task at hand and deliver solutions to our customers in the most time and cost-efficient manner possible.  

Leading Sikorsky’s full lifecycle of military products and services must have given you valuable insights into the airframe side of the industry – how has this helped you in your career with UTAS/Collins Aerospace?

My time at Sikorsky gave me an in-depth understanding of the original equipment side of the business and what the primes are looking for from their suppliers. At Collins, this has helped me to lead Mechanical Systems with a ‘customer-first’ approach and to always keep the needs of the customer at the forefront of our employees’ minds. As President of Sikorsky’s military business, I also gained critical defense experience that has helped me as I work to increase our military customer base at Mechanical Systems.

The North American market is very well catered for in terms of aerospace and technology companies; where do you see the future of aviation management/maintenance going geographically?

China and India are both key growth markets for us, with booming commercial air travel driven by rising middle classes, only a small fraction of which have ever flown before. We have several sites in both countries and continue to look for opportunities to expand our presence, whether on our own or in partnership with others.

We’re not only interested in China and India as marketplaces, we want to work with the countries’ best and brightest. Both countries’ workforces have a high technical acuity and a desire to advance. We want to give them an opportunity to put their skills to work. For us, it’s not about being in China or India because we’re required to be or purely for low cost. We’ve benefited from the low cost they offer, but now we’re tapping into their innovation and creative spirit. We want to move beyond basic engineering and final assembly to more complex operations and we know that working together with our Chinese and Indian partners, we can.

Increasingly, both our commercial and military customers expect us to provide more than just products

Having a global MRO network is key to customer satisfaction – what efforts are being made in this sphere by Collins Aerospace?

Our products are used by operators all over the world, so we need to increase our worldwide presence. We’re actively establishing a footprint in fast-growth markets and assessing where we can source material most effectively. And we’re establishing or expanding partnerships to make use of existing investments and relationships. Ultimately, we need to be where our customers are and build a network that makes the MRO experience completely seamless.

Collins Aerospace

Environmental concerns are an issue at the forefront of everyone’s minds; what is Collins Aerospace doing to ensure sustainability and green energy is a core consideration when updating older products or developing new ones?

At Mechanical Systems, we continuously strive to improve the sustainability of our operations. For example, together with the State of California and the local municipal water district, we launched Collins’ first US-based water reclamation initiative at our Landing Systems facility in Santa Fe Springs, California in 2018. It is expected to increase water savings by 22 million gallons annually at the site, adding substantially to the 18.4 million gallons of water already saved on the premises since 2013. The water reclamation project flows site-generated industrial waste water to a city treatment facility, which returns the treated water to Santa Fe Springs to support site operations. The water is distributed through a separate connection with no impact to sanitary or drinking water at the location or in the surrounding community.

Collins has the scale, strength and technical resources to redefine aerospace

We’ve also begun working with our customers to support their sustainability initiatives. Recently, our propellers were part of ATR’s ‘Perfect Flight’, focused on reducing carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Following the flight, on World Environment Day, we joined with ATR to launch a new challenge to ATR operators: find innovative ways to fly responsibly and reduce our environmental footprint, then share those best practices with others.

What do you enjoy most about your role, and what do you find most challenging?

The thing that I enjoy most about my role is that any time I turn on the TV or read a newspaper I can see our products at work. From soldiers defending our country to the Coast Guard saving people during natural disasters, I can see the impact we have on operators and those they are working to serve every day. For example, you may recall the 470 passengers that were rescued from a Viking cruise ship that suffered an engine failure off the coast of Norway this past March. Our hoists were used by the S-92 crews that participated in that evacuation.

I also meet people whose lives have been saved by our products, and that’s just a tremendously powerful feeling and responsibility – to know that lives depend on the solutions you provide. That responsibility is also our greatest challenge. With lives on the line, there is no margin for error and we must ensure that our products and solutions are always built to the highest standards.