When you decide to open a fixed base operation along the Florida Gulf Coast, the expectations are no smaller, especially in a statewide "venue" known as an epicenter for aviation, where a professional performance, or lack thereof, can make or break an FBO.
At PrivateSky® Aviation, born from Founder/Chairman Vincent Wolanin's first Gulfstream aircraft – bought to ferry high-flying rock stars – the line crew, maintenance techs and customer service reps perform for pilots and passengers, as demanding an audience as any.
And unlike Wolanin's mega-bands, his PrivateSky crew puts on a show 365 days a year, 17 hours a day, often times more, as a Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer at Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers.
The FBO's set list amounts to a single song, but it's one that has pilots calling for encores. That little ditty is a thing called "Excellence," according to Royce Stevens, Chief Operating Officer for PrivateSky.
"We bill ourselves as the Home of Total Excellence™," says Stevens. "Everything we do revolves around excellence. It's just a word that describes every aspect of what we're doing, whether we're working on an airplane, performing maintenance on an airplane or putting fuel into an airplane."
Gulfstream in the bloodstream
That PrivateSky differentiates itself as a Gulfstream expert is no accident.
Wolanin grew tired of flying commercial across the world as Chairman of TopNotch® Entertainment, an international entertainment asset ownership and management company he founded that also handled major musical acts. Hours of commercial flight delays convinced Wolanin to pick up his first Gulfstream jet, a GII-SP, in 1998. Since then he has owned multiple Gulfstreams.
As Stevens tells the story, Wolanin soon met other Gulfstream owners who shared a complaint. They thought most maintenance shops didn't offer the attention to detail or quality workmanship that multimillion dollar jets deserved. So Wolanin had an epiphany. Why not open an MRO specializing in Gulfstream large-cabin models exclusively?
Meanwhile, Stevens had parlayed a college gig working the line for an FBO into a job at Gulfstream Aerospace, where he built the sophisticated aircraft, became chief inspector and eventually ran the brand's C-20 government program in Germany. I ran whole C-20 operation government worldwide. Left as chief inspector.
"Working at an airport in Georgia and going to school, I saw a GII land, the first time I ever saw a Gulfstream," recalls Stevens. "And I thought that's the neatest airplane. The guy running the FBO said 'You realize they build those in Savannah, right down the road.' So I starting working on my A&P license and got a job working on Gulfstreams within a week. That's how it started."
When Wolanin and Stevens met in the late 1990s, their passion for Gulfstreams became a business plan for PrivateSky Aviation.
For Stevens – who brings 35-plus years of combined aviation and technical experience, including 15 years as an FAA DAR (Designated Air Worthiness Representative) to PrivateSky – the Gulfstream requires the FBO to commit to excellence.
When you're working with large, sophisticated aircraft, says Stevens, "you've got to be on top of your game to keep that game right. It's about being completely conscious of an airplane."
It takes a keen eye for detail at every step, he explains, whether fueling the large aircraft, installing complex avionics or accurately estimating costs and delivery timing on the overhauls, modifications, maintenance, nondestructive testing and inspections, safety enhancements and repairs PrivateSky performs.
"We understand aviation to the point that everything we do, from how we talk to the customer to how we operate equipment is professional and exactly the way it should be, and that's what our facility reflects," says Stevens.
Safety, he says, is in their blood.
"It's a different approach than what you see at a lot of FBOs," Stevens explains. "They know airplanes from pumping fuel in them. But we've been around so much we'll notice something that's not quite right about an airplane when it's taxiing out. We'll see something most people wouldn't because we're truly aircraft savvy.
"Our safety record is through the roof," he says. "Everything we do has that in mind. It's just a good basis to build on."
That safety commitment blends well with being a dealer for Phillips 66 Aviation, which offers NATA Safety 1st PLST online training for its FBOs, along with a TrustedFuel.com website, a comprehensive resource center for fuel handlers, replete with technical data, safety training tools, calculators and fuel quality assurance guidance.
Hail to the chiefs
Stevens prefers to hire attitude over experience, then teach employees how to perform their jobs at a higher level than normal.
"It's what we mean when we talk about PrivateSky's center-of-total-excellence philosophy," he says. "Everybody here wants to do an excellent job no matter what they're doing."
If you call the PrivateSky team aviation geeks, you wouldn't be far off.
"We get wowed by the fancy stuff we get into the maintenance hangar, things that most people would find boring," says Stevens.
Most people, though, aren't bored by presidential visits. PrivateSky has entertained United States presidents numerous times during its relatively brief history.
"We've kind of gotten on a first-name basis with Secret Service," Stevens says. "They've come to know us pretty well over the years."
But it doesn't matter, says Stevens, if their customer is a president or a Piper pilot.
"Excellence is about treating people right so they want to come back," Stevens says.
It's a refrain you can hear Stevens and his crew sing daily on the stage at PrivateSky
For more information on PrivateSky Aviation, visit www.PrivateSky.net.