LOUISVILLE, Ky.-What goes up must inevitably come down. And after a few flights, chances are the tires on most of the airliners at your local airport are ready to come off-for retreading.
An estimated 80 percent of all aircraft tires are retreaded, pretty much by only three companies in the U.S.-Goodyear, Michelin and Thompson Aerospace.
Just don't presume the limited number of players means business has been booming, at least as far as Thompson is concerned.
Supply and demand for retreaded aircraft tires has been so close over the last couple years, that surplus capacity has depressed prices, according to Miami-based Thompson's Harry E. Davis, vice president, technical services.
The other blade of the double-edged sword for the industry has been an increase in product performance. Sure, that's good news-but it has also aggravated the retread glut, he said.
That overcapacity led to a number of Thompson's facilities being shuttered in recent years-``maybe too many of them,'' Mr. Davis said recently while visiting the International Tire and Rubber Association's World Tire Conference & Exhibition in Louisville.
Thompson, the sole distributor of Bridgestone aircraft tires in the Western Hemisphere, has one retreading plant in Miami; it closed another in San Francisco in 1992.
However, Mr. Davis sees relief on the horizon, noting Thompson has plans to open a new retread facility ``somewhere outside Cali-fornia'' within about 18 months.
``Logistically, we need one to service the airline industry on the West Coast,'' he said.
Currently, the firm retreads between 280-300 aircraft tires per day, Mr. Davis said.
``And considering the severity of the application,'' he added, ``the industry's retread failure rate is very low.''
Thompson retreads aircraft tires four times, with the largest being a commercial airline tire measuring 54 inches in diameter and 21 inches in width.
About 20 percent of Thompson's business, according to Mr. Davis, is for military aircraft, including tires for a B52 bomber that measure 56 inches around and 16 inches wide.