With more than 570,000 sq ft under roof, Little Rock, Ark.-based Central Flying Service is arguably the world’s largest full-service FBO. “The key is ‘full service,’” said Richard Holbert, president and CEO of the Adams Field operation.
As part of the full-service fare of fuel, customer service, charter and instruction, Central Flying Service features an FAA Part 145 repair station that is an authorized service center for Raytheon and Diamond aircraft. The company specializes in Hawkers, Beechjets, turboprop Beechcraft and Cessna Citations. About 120 employees and almost 20 percent of the facility’s square footage (105,000 sq ft) are dedicated to maintenance.
“My older brother Don [the company’s chairman] and I started here 50 years ago,” Holbert told AIN. “We’ve always had a fascination with aviation because we grew up in the business.”
Holbert said his father initially went into the aviation business in 1939 as a civilian pilot training operation. “My father and a partner started Central Flying Service when World War II began and became part of the war pilot training program. By 1946 they were also selling Taylorcraft aircraft, giving flight instruction, flying charter in a Ford Trimotor and offering aircraft maintenance to the public.
“The GI Bill, which started in 1948, really kept a lot of us afloat, but it wasn’t until 1961 that the company hit $1 million in sales,” Holbert said. “That doesn’t sound like a lot today, but back in the late 1950s a new Beech Super 18 was only about $85,000.”
Holbert graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1965 with a degree in business management and a commission in the Army through the ROTC program. With the Army’s blessing he went to Georgetown law school and received a J.D. in 1968.
After graduating from law school Holbert went on active duty with the Army but chose to go into the military police and was stationed in Germany in the early 1970s. His older brother had been an Army aviator flying Cobras in Vietnam.
“When Don left the Army he returned to the company as v-p of operations,” Holbert said. “By the time I got out in 1972 and joined the company as v-p of marketing we had hit $4 million in sales, but that was a time of really significant inflation.”
Holbert’s father retired in 1975 and became the company’s chairman but he continued to fly charter and work as an FAA-designated pilot examiner while Don Holbert moved into the position of president and Richard Holbert up to executive v-p.
“About 1980 my father retired again, my brother became chairman and I became president,” Richard Holbert said, “but my father still continued flying and was by then the FAA’s most senior designated pilot examiner in the U.S. Dad continued to work regularly until he passed away at age 73. He was the first civilian type-rated jet pilot in Arkansas; it was on a North American Sabreliner. He had more than 50,000 hours when he died.”
Since Richard Holbert assumed the role of president the company has grown from about 85 employees to 275. “The company has had a natural, consistent growth over the years but when we acquired Midcoast Little Rock in 2002 it virtually doubled our acreage under roof,” he said. “We added a 45,000-sq-ft hangar last year, thinking it would increase our capacity and last for a while, but in less than a year we’re full and have more demand than space.”
Central Flying Service offers a diverse range of services in the scheduled and unscheduled maintenance of corporate and private aircraft. According to Holbert, the company’s jet-maintenance capabilities range from logbook surveys, light maintenance and minor inspections to complete interior refurbishment, heavy maintenance and major inspections and NDT.
“Our techs have an average of 10 years’ experience servicing and repairing both heavy jets [Hawkers and Falcons] and light jets [Citations and Beechjets]. Our Prop Group technicians have an average of 15 years’ experience, and because we are a Raytheon Aircraft authorized service center we are particularly familiar with the King Air.”
The company is also an authorized Max-Viz dealer, Raisbeck dealer and a Diamond service center, and will service the new D-Jet, scheduled to arrive in the next year.
CFS’s maintenance department also offers custom paint; interior design, with a licensed interior designer on staff; refurbishment; sheet metal; nondestructive testing; component repair and fabrication; charter; 24/7 line service; and flight training. The company also has the Flight Deck restaurant and in-flight catering.