Tri-State Aero: Midwest mx shop focuses on business aircraft

 - July 26, 2007, 7:31 AM

John Zeidler, president of Evansville Regional Airport (KEVV)-based Tri-State Aero, didn’t come by his aviation career through his family, as many do. Rather, he came to the industry as a result of Midwestern practicality. “I grew up in Southern Illinois in the 1960s,” he said. “It isn’t that I was a stranger to aviation–my grandfather owned some apartment buildings in Biloxi and we’d fly down there periodically in a Cessna 210–but we weren’t really an aviation family.” Zeidler’s family owned a number of businesses, including a radio station, an auto parts store, a Redi-Mix concrete business and automobile dealerships.

“I grew up around several different businesses and would help out when I wasn’t in school. Initially I started doing basic jobs, gradually took on more responsibility and by the time I was in college I was working in the front office. It was an excellent, diverse background that laid a good foundation for going into business myself,” he said. 

In 1992 Zeidler moved to Chicago to take a position with AIG’s American General business unit and was recruited into its management program. “I was sent to Evansville for training, learned to really like the community and asked the company to assign me here.”

About three years later he decided to take flying lessons and became acquainted with the owner of the FBO and flight school at Evansville Airport. As Zeidler pursued flying, he became friends with Tom Speer, who one day confided in him that he was considering retiring but didn’t have a succession plan in place for his business.

“There was some interest from potential buyers outside the community, but Tom wanted someone local. We talked it over, reached an agreement and I bought the business from him in 2000,” Zeidler said. “It was a good investment and we’ve since tripled our revenue.”

The sole FBO on the airport, Tri-State Aero offers fuel, maintenance, avionics, aircraft sales and management, and charter using a Cessna 310, King Air C90 and Beechjet 400A. The facility is open 24 hours a day, offers quick turns, around-the-clock cargo handling and secure facilities with 24-hour camera surveillance. There are 88 based aircraft and a waiting list for hangar space.

Tri-State Aero offers the typical FBO amenities such as a flight-planning office with WSI Pilot Brief, conference room and crew cars; then there are the not-so-typical amenities. “If you’re here for a day or two while we’re working on your aircraft we have some great ways for you to pass the time,” Zeidler said.

“We have a great golf course right next door to us. We also have an agreement with Bob’s Gym, a 24-hour fitness center that has exercise machines, basketball, swimming, weights, cardio equipment and group classes. We can arrange for a free pass and provide round-trip transportation; they’re only a few minutes away.”

Tri-State Aero leases 400,000 sq ft of land from the airport, of which 110,000 sq ft is heated hangar space. He said, “14,500 square feet is dedicated to maintenance and divided up with 7,000 square feet for turbine-powered aircraft maintenance and 2,500 square feet to piston.” The avionics shop accounts for an additional 5,000 sq ft.

The facility is situated next to 750,000 sq ft of public ramp space that is available for Tri-State Aero’s use, and the company is waiting for FAA approval to erect two 11,770-sq-ft hangars to increase its aircraft storage capacity.

Zeidler said the maintenance portion of the business is strong and brought in “a shade over $2.5 million in revenue” last year. “We do a lot of King Air maintenance as well as crewing and aircraft management for local owners. We’ve been operating King Airs in our charter department since 1969, so we have a long history of working on them.” 

The maintenance facility is an FAA repair station with ratings that include airframe class 1 composite construction of small aircraft; airframe class 3 all-metal construction of small aircraft; powerplant class 1 reciprocating engines up to 400 hp; Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-1/4/5 field-level maintenance and inspection; Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A field-level maintenance and inspection; limited radio; and limited instrument.

Zeidler said the company specializes in the Beechjet 400/400A and Mitsubishi MU-300 and Beech King Air 90/100/200/300. It is also a factory-authorized service center for Cessna and Cirrus.

Tri-State Aero has a staff of 55, with 13 of them in maintenance–eight A&P mechanics, two avionics techs, two parts supply personnel and one maintenance administrative person. “The maintenance crew has a combined 160 years of maintenance and records experience, with the average tech having just over 18 years experience,” Zeidler said.

Training Paramount

The avionics shop does installations and upgrades in addition to complete avionics troubleshooting and repair. The company carries a parts inventory for Beechjet, King Airs, Cirrus, Cessna, Rockwell Collins and Avidyne.

“We take a strong approach to training,” said Zeidler. “We send our technicians to initial and recurrent training programs conducted by various aircraft and engine manufacturers as well as FlightSafety. For recurrent training we use Global Jet Services because we like to have the trainers come to our location and use our equipment in our own facility. I think it makes it far more personal and appropriate to our operation.”

“We’ve always been proactive about training,” Zeidler explained. “We were one of the first operators to implement NATA’s Safety First line service training program. We recognize that taking care of the customer means you have to have the right personnel with the right tools and training.”