At night, long after his shift as a mechanic for a tractor maker was over, Herb Elliott would play bass fiddle in a band, pocketing extra money for a dream, while mentally composing an aviation masterpiece.
Playing those 1930s music shows helped Elliott buy his first aircraft, a spruce, ash and bamboo Curtis Pusher, for the princely, depression-era sum of $350. From a grass airstrip at an airport without water or electricity, Elliott Flying Service became a reality, using an old farm truck with a 300-gallon gas tank as its avgas fuel farm. To run the back office, the bass player recruited his high school sweetheart and soon-to-be wife, Arlene Soltenberg.
That first year they sold 13 aircraft. It was a gig fitting for a musician, with a keen ear tuned to the rhythm of customer needs.
Seventy-seven years in the making, Elliott Aviation is now one of the oldest privately operated, family-held aviation companies in the world – with a forceful presence in Midwestern aviation. It is known for its global aircraft sales network, a high-tech custom paint and interior shop, high-quality maintenance services with authorizations from multiple OEM's, a massive parts inventory, and an avionics engineering group praised for having one of the most successful retrofit programs in the industry.
One of the newest Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealers, Elliott Aviation sells Phillips 66 jet fuel and avgas at two facilities – one a sprawling, fully diversified operation at Quad Cities International Airport (KMLI) in Moline, the other recently remodeled, stunning FBO at Des Moines International Airport (KDSM). A third location serves Minneapolis (KFCM).
One level of quality
"Trust, honesty and integrity meant everything to my father," says Wynn Elliott, Chairman/CEO of Elliott Aviation and Herb and Arlene's son.
"We have one level of quality, whether it's a small aircraft arriving as a transient for fuel, or a very large completion project for a retail customer," explains Elliott. "We're big enough to handle all of your aircraft needs but small enough to give you the personal touch you deserve."
It's no surprise then that Elliott Aviation strives to be the first choice for its customers. But it also wants to be the first choice for employees. It does that, says Elliott, by nurturing a culture that empowers individual leadership and high-quality skills, in concert with efficient teamwork. Some 350 employees work at Elliott's three locations.
"It doesn't matter if you are a customer or employee, when you work with Elliott Aviation, you are part of our family and we will treat you with honesty and uncompromised integrity, just as my mother and father did," says Elliott.
Power in diversification
At its Moline location, Elliott Aviation is truly a one-stop shop, with a high-tech completion center, busy maintenance facility, accessory shop, and a world-renowned avionics facility, all backed by a huge parts inventory.
All of it is connected to each customer through a project manager. They serve as liaisons responsible for coordinating all internal processes. For a customer, that means one person, one number to call to get their product delivered on time, squawk-free.
Offering a full roster of diversified services is integral to Elliott Aviation's customer service strategy.
"Our object to develop a one-stop shop in Moline is that we have all the aviation disciplines necessary to complete a very large project on one campus – with minimum downtime and maximum efficiency," explains Elliott. "That allows us to get the customer's airplane back into the air as quickly as possible."
Take Elliott Aviation's parts inventory, which is big enough to fill four warehouses. "We buy, stock and sell a tremendous amount of parts, all linked and accessible via our computer system," explains Elliott. "No matter the size project, we have immediate access to the parts needed for a timely completion."
That, says Elliott, saves transit time and shipping costs, and keeps mechanics focused on the project instead of ordering and receiving parts.
Hiring with uncompromising integrity
To deliver its roster of diversified services, the company sets the bar high when it comes to recruiting employees. And then it supplies a state-of-the-art environment where those skills can flourish.
"Every employee at Elliott Aviation is a very skilled craftsman," says Elliott. "Customers come to Elliott to get the best, and that's something we take a lot of pride in."
Elliott points to their Moline completion center, busy with turnkey interior design work, custom woodworking and cabinetry, high-gloss down-draft painting, and avionics modifications and installations. There, says Elliot, is where one of the industry's best painters plies his craft, with input from an onsite design center that uses sophisticated 3D computer rendering to help customers envision anything they can dream up. The artistry becomes possible inside the high-tech paint booth, essentially a clean room, sealed and filtered to keep contaminants at bay.
"Interior and paint work begin by getting to know the customer and fully understanding their mission," says Elliott. "Then, whatever they envision as a paint scheme, whatever we design on screen, we have complete confidence our craftsman can recreate it. And the near-perfect environment of the paint booth allows us to deliver gloss and adhesion that is second to none in the industry."
After a painstaking, pinpoint detail process that Elliott Aviation touts as beyond anybody else's, the aircraft is left gleaming on the ramp, ready for the customer. And that, says Elliott, can be a magical moment for the professionals who worked on the project.
"When the customer arrives to see the finished product, the expression and the enthusiasm they share with us is a very rewarding and incredible experience," he says.
Hiring professionals with a deep skill-set has also paid off for Elliott Aviation's avionics engineering group. Over the years, the group is often first to the market with FAA certification for many of the industry's new avionics and safety products.
"Innovation is something our avionics work is recognized for," explains Elliott. "We have developed RSVM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minima) solutions for a range of turbine aircraft over the years, and we are at the forefront of STC (Supplemental Type Certificate) development."
The culture of buying and selling
Behind all the diversified services and decked-out facilities, says Elliott, is a group of employees who take pride and ownership in their jobs. It's a pervasive culture, he says, one committed to the customer experience.
"And that culture, that sensitivity to customers, grew out of buying and selling airplanes back when the company began," Elliott explains.
Of course, the company continues to provide aircraft sales, acquisitions and brokerages worldwide. After all, they have 77 years of expertise to draw on, plus a market research staff using real-time data and an onsite ASA certified appraiser to help customers know what planes are truly worth.
But it's more than that, says Elliott.
"It all comes back to the basics of understanding what a customer's needs are, their mission profile and what kind of airplane makes sense for them," he says. "You will find that customer-focused philosophy at every turn in our three facilities. Our employees' culture, training and their own commitment is how we're able to deliver on a customer service experience that is second to none."
For more information on Elliott Aviation, visit www.elliottaviation.com.