Premier Air Center of East Alton, Ill., has deep roots in the general aviation community. It began in 1947 as Walston Aviation on St. Louis Regional Airport and became one of the largest Cessna dealers in the world. The business changed hands a few times, eventually becoming Premier Air Center in 1984. In 2002 a group of investors, including Sam Haycraft, Mike Durst and Jim Swehla, acquired the company.
Haycraft, v-p of operations, told AIN that he, Durst (general manager) and Swehla (v-p of sales and marketing) looked specifically for a small company so they could get to know all their customers personally. “Large facilities have gotten so big it’s easy for them to become impersonal. We all worked for Garrett Aviation for about 25 years. There were approximately 100 employees when I started there in the late 1970s and I watched it grow to about 500 by the time I left.” He added, “I had a good career with Garrett and I have a lot of friends there, but I felt it was time to try things my own way.”
Haycraft said that about the time the investors were acquiring Premier Air Center, a company in Vancouver was selling its Falcon tooling. “We opted to purchase the tooling and expand into Falcons. By April 2002 we were in business and did our first Falcon project,” he said. “It was a C inspection and some interior work. Things went quickly and easily because we hired a lot of experienced Falcon people, we already had the repair station structure in place and our FSDO was very helpful.”
Premier Air Center maintenance specializes in Cessna Citations and Dassault Falcons and has been an independently owned and operated Cessna Citation Service Center since 1974. According to Haycraft, the company has always exceeded the training requirements for a factory-authorized maintenance facility. “Our lead technicians have been FlightSafety trained on every model of Citation and Falcon currently in service,” he said. “We’re also a line-service center for Honeywell TFE731, Honeywell APU-20, -40 and -60, all models of P&WC used on Citations, and we’re a Williams service center.”
Before the change in ownership in 2002, Premier Air Center had not done any STC development. Now, according to Haycraft, the company is very involved in STC development and is doing heavy structural work, including major rebuilds. It has developed about 20 STCs since 2002, including interiors, ground proximity, TCAS and some airframe programs.
The Premier Air Center complex consists of more than 126,000 sq ft of hangars, shops and administrative space, including separate Cessna- and Falcon-specific hangars. The company has an additional 94,000 sq ft of space available for expansion. The full-service FBO employs about 147 people, including 75 technicians.
The company’s modification department has more than 30 people in the trim, wood and sheet metal departments with the capability to design and build new cabin interior shells, new woodwork and cabinetry. Employees in the trim shop can perform tasks from a simple complete re-rag of an interior through complex interior designs incorporating exotic materials. The wood shop is also well equipped and can handle jobs ranging from relaminating existing cabinetry to providing a high-gloss veneer interior. The company has refurbished numerous Citations, Falcons, Gulfstreams and Challengers.
“We are experienced in floor plan change, new seating, new wood with high-gloss finishes, new lighting and new entertainment packages to name a few of our areas of expertise,” Haycraft said. “We can also complete the necessary FAA certification on these types of extensive modifications due to our in-depth engineering and certification staffing.”
The avionics department is an FAA-certified Class 1, 2 and 3 avionics repair station. It can install, repair and update all avionics systems, including satcom equipment, satnav systems, enhanced ground proximity warning systems, advanced collision avoidance systems and cabin entertainment systems. Premier Air Center is an authorized dealer for all major avionics manufacturers, including Rockwell Collins, Honeywell, Bendix/ King, Universal Avionics, Garmin, Goodrich, Max-Viz, Aircell and EMS Technologies.
Haycraft said the company has 13 FCC-licensed technicians, all of whom receive factory training. As a Cessna authorized Citation service center Premier is involved heavily in RVSM installations on the Citation fleet and maintains two RVSM-certified pitot-static testing machines to handle the increasing demand for RVSM calibrations. “We also have extensive bench repair capabilities that use computer-aided testing to troubleshoot faults to the component level of the failed unit and then perform the final testing after the repair has been made,” he said. There are plans to implement a second shift for avionics installations.
The company’s paint facility is EPA-approved and can handle all Citations, from the CJ1 through the Citation X and Sovereign. “In the past year we’ve handled Citation IIs, Citation Vs, Falcon 20s, Falcon 50EXs, Falcon 900EXs, Gulfstream IIs and Gulfstream Vs,” Haycraft said.
“One of our strong points is that we’re very personalized,” noted Haycraft. “We can move quickly and take care of issues when there’s a decision to make. The three of us are here every day and we can make decisions on the spot if there are issues or problems. We make it a point not to have a long chain of command structure. But even more important, we found the best people available and we’ve empowered them to make decisions. We have a good staff of managers and they know we’ll be there to back them up.”