When you're serving an airport named after a man whose airplane is hangared at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the bar is set pretty high.
But at Wiley Post Airport (KPWA) in Oklahoma City, living up to the legacy of a celebrated, pacesetting pilot is part of the mission for Valair Aviation.
In fact, pilots nationwide just named the Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer one of the top two fixed base operators at airports with less than 5,800 arrivals a year. Valair Aviation also made the top 32 United States FBOs, joining facilities at larger airports, in voting by some 8,000 pilots for FltPlan.com's 2012 Pilot's Choice Awards.
Post – who occasionally flew his Winnie Mae into what is Oklahoma City's first airport – smashed altitude records in a pressurized suit he created, made the first solo flight around the globe, won National Air Races, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress, among a host of other accolades. Still, if the famed aviator were alive and visited today, he might be impressed seeing Valair's full-service maintenance facility ready for modifications, inspections, avionics overhauls and custom makeovers – all backed by a parts inventory worth nearly $1 million.
Who knows? There might even be a spare part in stock for Post's 1920s Lockheed Vega.
For the folks running Valair, though, it's more about the people than the resources.
"It is vitally important that aviators who visited our FBO valued our efforts enough to honor us with a Pilot's Choice award," explains Darryl Wilkerson, president of Valair Aviation. "We work very hard to make this a world-class FBO experience by catering to the customer first with a full complement of services and comfortable accommodations, then backing that up with some robust maintenance resources."
Keeping an ear to the ground
Wilkerson says the focus at Valair Aviation is squarely on customers and taking action on their comments. "We value the feedback we receive from our customers and take pride in our ability to use that information to continuously improve our services," he says.
That approach is helping Valair grow. In 2011, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber honored the FBO with a Metro 50 Award, which ranks the fastest- growing private companies in town. Revenues at Valair increased 25 percent last year.
"At the end of the day, it's about your employees," says Wilkerson. "Do they enjoy what they do? Do they share that enthusiasm with customers? We credit our employees for our growth because they like their work and perform over and above on a daily basis."
"It's just part of our character to demonstrate a responsibility to all of our stakeholders and then work to exceed their expectations," he says.
The 24-hour FBO caters to a wide variety of aviation needs, from individual aircraft owners, corporate flight departments, aircraft charter operators and military and governmental institutions.
Competitive fuel prices and friendly, resourceful customer service are a big part of Valair's draw. And the FBO, one of the newest members of the Phillips 66 network, is promoting the WingPoints® Reward Card as a way to incentivize loyal customers.
It's in their DNA
When it comes to maintenance and modifications, a full-service approach is integral to Valair's historical DNA.
Formerly called The ServiCenter, Valair began as a service division for Aero Commander aircraft, delivering and maintaining new piston, turboprop, and turbojet-powered planes. Eventually, Valair evolved into a full-service maintenance FBO, increasing its capabilities to cover the entire line of King Air aircraft, including civilian, military, even airline models. As an FAA Part 145 repair station, the FBO is an authorized service center for Raytheon and Twin Commander aircraft and can work on most aircraft, including Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Lear, Saberliner, Twin Commander and Westwind.
With a resume that deep, it's no surprise Valair can do anything from an oil change to overhauls and major structural repairs.
Sometimes, though, pilots and their engines or airframes need rescuing far from home. So Valair technicians have been known to globetrot with their tools, parts and expertise.
"Valair's Aircraft On Ground service, off-site maintenance and aircraft delivery can get customers airborne again just about anywhere they might be stuck," says Wilkerson. "We've serviced and delivered aircraft in faraway destinations like South America, Africa, Europe, Mexico, Canada, and South Korea."
Avionics take off
Back home in Oklahoma City, Valair has found growth in custom exterior work, interior modifications and a budding business updating older avionics with new glass panel cockpits.
"There are not many paint shops like ours in Oklahoma; we can put about any aircraft in it and paint it any way you want," Wilkerson explains. "We're also focusing strongly on avionics modifications. Avionics are a major part of any aircraft investment. Aircraft owners are realizing that installing the latest avionics technology can improve the pilot experience, adding another layer of safety and flying comfort."
Valair recently joined with Kirkpatrick Electronics to boost its avionics capabilities. Valair-Kirkpatrick Electronics is an authorized service center for most major avionics manufacturers, with a state-of-the-art shop, the latest bench test equipment and the ability to handle custom installations with laser wire harness identification and full engineering support.
Wilkerson says the FBO – which is a division of AGC Aerospace & Defense, a global supplier of technologies, systems and services that support commercial and military programs – won't rest on its laurels.
"We consider Valair Aviation as one of Oklahoma City's crown jewels," says Wilkerson. "To live up to that, we will keep listening to our customers and make improvements to our facility and services. If we ensure the best possible user experience, then we know we're doing our job."
Wiley Post would be proud.
For more information on Valair Aviation, call (800) 299-8546, or visit www.ValairAviation.com.