Thunder Aviation opened its doors in 1997 after several people approached owner Larry Moskoff, who based his Beech Duke at Spirit of Saint Louis Airport, about starting an FBO on the airport. The timing was right, as Moskoff was selling the pharmaceutical business he had inherited from his father.
The business began as a full-service FBO including charter, a flight school and maintenance. By late summer 2001 it had expanded to encompass six buildings, but 9/11 took its toll and Moskoff was forced to scale back to survive. The company sold off most aspects of the business, retaining only the name and the maintenance operation located in four of the original six buildings.
“I believe it was a very good move to divest ourselves of the other aspects of the business. I’ve never been an FBO, charter or flight school kind of guy. I cut my teeth in an MRO environment and I think that’s where Thunder Aviation’s strengths lie,” Gene Kraay, president and CEO, told AIN.
He added, “Thunder Aviation is in a competitive environment here in the St. Louis area. We’re competing with some well known MROs who have strong market shares. I had to ask if we really wanted to simultaneously compete with all the other FBOs and charter operators too. It didn’t make business sense to be taking on so many different companies in so many different areas of specialization. We decided what we really want is to be an MRO.”
Kraay had spent his share of time around the Chesterfield, Mo. airport but shortly before Thunder Aviation was built he left his position as director of international sales for Sabreliner and moved to Arizona. He had been asked by private investors to buy a business in Tucson and become its president and CEO. Kraay ran Pueblo Airmotive for four years, sold it and moved on to another venture.
Finding a Leader
“In 2004 I received a call from old friends in the St. Louis area who asked if I’d be interested in returning to the area and helping them with Thunder Aviation,” Kraay said. “I’d never heard of Thunder Aviation, but I went back to Spirit to take a look; I was taken aback at how much the airport had grown. As I drove up the road suddenly there was Thunder Aviation; I couldn’t believe how big it was. I went in and was really impressed with the cleanliness and quality of the facility. There was a freshness about the whole place.”
Kraay began his stint at Thunder Aviation in June 2004 as vice president of sales. “When I came here I didn’t know Larry but quickly found we shared common values. We both put a lot of stock in dignity and honesty. Larry respects the fact that I base my relationships on those values especially in this day and age when so many people care only about making a buck,” he said. “Of course I’m in business to make money but not at the price of values.” Kraay has been president and CEO of the company since September 2005.
For Kraay, simply specializing in MRO operations wasn’t the end of the challenge. The company had hung its hat on RVSM solutions and, while it did so successfully, Kraay never allowed it to overshadow other aspects of the business.
“By the time I arrived here it was obvious that the RVSM balloon was on the down cycle; we had to continue to evolve our business line. We’ve established ourselves since then with interior design and modification capability, ranging from minor repairs to full interior completion and installation.”
Today Thunder Aviation employs about 60 people, 25 of whom are dedicated to maintenance and another 15 to avionics. Located in 50,000 sq ft of space, the company offers maintenance, interiors, avionics and engine work.
“We also added an engineering department this year that supports everything from avionics to refurb. We can honestly say we offer a full breadth of service to all the aircraft on our FAA Part 145 and EASA repair station certificates,” Kraay said.
Located within the company’s four 12,500-sq-ft hangars are backshops including an engine shop, interior shop, 24- by 12-foot paint booth, Class I and III sheet-metal shop, NDT shop with dye penetrant and eddy current, and a parts department that has more than 7,000 items in stock.
The facility also features some amenities for customer convenience. Visitors will find a dedicated lounge containing a computer with Internet access, satellite television, comfortable seating and a kitchen.
The company offers major airframe inspections; avionics repairs, modification and installations; airframe structural support; avionics and structural engineering support; interior design, modification and fabrication; and engine repair and maintenance. Its FAA certificate lists the Falcon 10, 20 and 50, Citations and Learjet 20 and 30 series.
Thunder Aviation is authorized to provide scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and repair on GE CF700 and CJ610 engines and Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D and PT6 engines. It also offers support and management for all turbine powerplants, including the Honeywell TFE731.
In the avionics area the company has dealership and service-center agreements to support, install and maintain Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, Bendix/King, Garmin, Universal Avionics, L-3, S-Tec and Aircell. The company also has group RVSM solutions for the Falcon 10 and 20.
This year, building upon its breadth of MRO services, Thunder Aviation has begun its PdL Program. It is named for Ponce de León, invoking the popular myth about the 16th century Spanish explorer’s quest for the fountain of youth.
Under the PdL Program, the company purchased an old Falcon 20, gutted it, upgraded the avionics, gave it a new paint job, did the maintenance checks and returned it to service as a like-new aircraft. It opens up yet a new market for the growing company.
“2006 was a year of positioning for us,” Kraay said. “We’ve made some mistakes but I guarantee you we’re not going to repeat them. Every day we’re actively putting systems in place that help us operate more efficiently. We are committed to providing our customers with the maintenance necessary for them to have safe, reliable transportation, and in this business, that’s what really counts.”