A firm that started off above a grocery shop in Stamford is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year after growing into a globally recognised brand.
Northrop Grumman’s UK-based air traffic communication systems subsidiary, Northrop Grumman Park Air Systems was established in the summer of 1966 and in August marked the milestone anniversary with a party at its site in Market Deeping for the 160 employees.
Since its early beginnings in a small workshop above a grocery shop in Stamford, it has grown into a globally recognised brand designing, developing and manufacturing safety critical Air Traffic Control (ATC) communication systems for airport customers around the world. Its state-of-the-art headquarters in Market Deeping, now deliver ATC equipment to more than 80 countries every year.
Back in 1966, Fred Parker, a radio amateur, started to build the first radios above his Stamford grocery shop. The first radios launched were; Sky Bandit transistor radio, a 50X valve transmitter and Lafayette HA55 receiver. The first contract followed soon afterwards, for the installation of radio units at Teeside Airport.
By the end of the 1960s, a team of six were employed and Fred Parker’s own aircraft, the Auster, was used to travel to installation sites across the UK. Among these employees was Chris Tarrant, the longest serving employee who recently retired after 48 years’ service.
In 1971 International Aeradio Ltd purchased the company, providing a global reach with established oversea sales groups.
By then, new portfolio radios were being developed thick and fast with a workforce of approximately 50 people.
In the mid-1970s Park Air moved to a new facility at Northfields industrial estate, Market Deeping, which was opened by chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, Lord Boyd Carpenter.
The 1980s saw the company break into the defence market with several UHF radio models, the Royal Dutch Navy being the first major defence market customer. It was in the early 1980s that AQAP-1 certification was obtained. International sales were strong and led to the company being awarded the Queen’s Award of Export Achievement three times, on each occasion earning the company a trip to Buckingham Palace.
In the mid-1980s Park Air employees bought company shares and took full ownership of the company and strategically moved into systems manufacturer.
Successfully turning over £7m, the management buyout came to an end and Westinghouse Electronics Systems Group purchased Park Air in 1990.
In 1996 Northrop Grumman purchased Westinghouse and became the parent company. By the end of the 1990s a sister company was also purchased called Navia, providing synergistic navigation aid products.
Systems development continued with the launch of Multi-Access Remote Control (MARC) and the launch of the first digital radio, the 5525. Annual turnover reached £13m, and Park Air was given the Investors in People award - today the company has achieved gold status.
The year 2000 saw the launch of the famous Park Air T6 radio; there are some 30,000 T6 U/VHF radios deployed in 175 countries around the world. These contracts have included; the largest ATC VHF system delivered to date in China, the world’s first integrated nationwide Internet Protocol (IP)-based VHF solution in Uruguay, ARINC, ENNA, Brazil/CINDACTA, UAE.
This decade also saw 32 staff celebrate 25 years’ service.
With the departure of Navia and ARC product ranges Park Air is again able to focus on the innovation of the core ATC Communications systems capability, whilst adapting to the market needs of cyber awareness and systems integration.
Looking to the future, environmental performance is paramount. Each new generation of equipment takes advantage of developments in materials and components with less environmental impact, with the reduction of power consumption to help reduce CO2 emissions and energy costs an important objective. Park Air boats ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification, including a rain water harvesting system and a zero landfill waste recycling programme.
The firm’s current managing director Danny Milligan, who has been with the firm for just over a year, said he was proud to join a company with a huge history that is committed to the local area.
He said: “The advancements in technology that have been achieved here are just amazing and 50 years is a huge milestone for any company.
“We usually prefer to keep a low profile and not make a big song and dance about ourselves but the anniversary is something to be celebrated.
“I’m very proud to work at Park Air and we hear through our customer feedback that employees are proud to work here.
“We look forward to seeing what the next 50 years hold for us.”