It all started when Dwight and Jeanne Gnepper traded in their tractor and 43 acres of farmland to harvest a different kind of crop, one not bound by the earth's soil.
Forty-five years later, the Gneppers' harvest has yielded an aviation business recognized the world over for overhauling propellers, creating an airplane tug that can be operated by a single person, and serving fliers with three generations of family care.
Today, at the age of 89, Dwight Gnepper runs a different kind of tractor on his former farmland, mowing Tiffin Aire's grass each week and checking on the fixed base operator daily, while his son-in-law, daughter and grandson grow a crop of loyal aviation customers.
Serving the manufacturing town of Tiffin not far from Lake Erie, Tiffin Aire is a Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer known throughout the Midwest as one of those rare places where you may see its president fueling aircraft in a suit and tie – or its "retired" founder mowing the grass. The one-stop aviation shop believes customers appreciate the personal family touch, as they serve Seneca County Airport (K16G) in Northwest Ohio.
"Having a family-run business is absolutely better for the customer," explains Bradley Newman, President of Tiffin Aire. "You'll see my face on the line doing service. I've got good clothes on pumping fuel, but I say 'What else can we help you with? Maybe you need a vehicle to get a bite to eat?' I believe it just helps customers understand we're here for them."
A propelling reputation
How Tiffin Aire propelled its FBO beyond selling fuel and pilot services in a county with 57,000 people is a story about stamina and ingenuity.
"We knew that an FBO in a small town needed to do more than the normal things to survive," Newman explains.
So Tiffin Aire diversified, adding services like most FBOs do: pilot services; charter; flight instruction and rental; aircraft sales; and, of course, maintenance, parts and oil sales. But the seeds for business growth really sprouted when the FBO developed an expertise in single-engine maintenance and repair – and, what may be its calling card – propeller overhauls and sales.
Tiffin Aire trucks now roll up and down Midwest highways ferrying propellers to customers. The FBO has even created a global marketplace for its expertise, handling propellers and governors from McCauley, Hartzell, MT, Sensenich, Beech, MT, Woodward/Ontic and PCU.
Then there's something you don't find every day at an FBO, a machine shop that makes its own tug with an agile, articulated frame and a patented lift system.
"We had a machine shop on propeller side, and we wanted to make our own tug," says Newman. "We had enough machining capability that we could build three to four of them when things got a little quiet. We've been making and selling tugs all over for 10 years now."
Newman says the Tiffin tug is the safest and simplest way to move anything from a Cessna 150 to a Citation without tow bars, adaptors, jacks or winches. "It's a real a labor-saver," he says, "making towing a one-man operation."
An authorized service center for Piper, Cessna, Lycoming and Michelin, Tiffin Aire also performs 100-hour and annual inspections on virtually all general aviation aircraft, with boroscope inspections available.
"We have a lot of experience in all the single engines," explains Newman.
And when your aircraft gets a clean bill of airworthiness, it also gets a spotless fuselage, thanks to a complimentary exterior wash with each Tiffin Aire annual.
Turboprop pilots seeking increased speed leverage Tiffin Aire's partnership with Blackhawk Modifications, the world's largest non-OEM buyer of new Pratt & Whitney engines. Pilots also bring aircraft into Tiffin for its state-of-the-art, digital aircraft weighing system, where in as little as one hour weight and balance data reports are provided.
If all those services didn't put the icing on Tiffin Aire's diverse business plan, then its expertise in de-icing boots may have.
Today, the FBO founder's grandson, Andrew Newman, manages the Tiffin Aire de-ice boots installation and testing operation. Tiffin's SMR-certified techs do testing and certification for SMR/BE Aerospace de-ice boots, analyzing for fit and function on aircraft, with FAA inspections, then flight testing some products for two months or so.
Diversification for Tiffin Aire has meant staying power in an industry beset by more downs than ups lately. This year, Tiffin Aire was honored by Phillips 66 Aviation for being a branded dealer for 45 years.
"We don't think there's anything like being branded with Phillips 66," says Newman. "They support FBOs by diversifying like we have."
The family that flies together…
In Ohio, the airplane doesn't fall far from the tree when it comes to the Gnepper and Newman families.
Dwight Gnepper's daughter Kim Newman is the vice president for Tiffin Air, overseeing accounting. She actually began working at the FBO long before Brad Newman stepped foot onto the FBO to work and take flight lessons from Kim's father, Dwight Gnepper, a World War II veteran who piloted North American B-25 Mitchells and Douglas A-20 Havocs on missions.
Brad Newman got that pilot's license on his 17th birthday, ended up marrying high school sweetheart, Kim, and never looked back. With son Andrew on the team, three generations of the Gnepper-Newman family have kept Tiffin Aire thriving.
"My father-in-law and I have almost reversed roles since 1989 when he retired," says Newman. "He's now mowing for me, what I did for him when I was 15. We just take a great pride in being a family owned and operated business."
Now, long after Gnepper donated his farmland to Seneca County because he thought they needed an airport, he still shows up to work at Tiffin Aire almost every day. "It gets him up and going," says Newman.