Massachusetts facility builds on owner’s experience

 - March 26, 2007, 1:01 PM

Gary Potts, president of AirFlyte, has a long history in aviation and specifically
at the airport his MRO serves. “Barnes Westfield Airport in Westfield, Mass., is an absolutely beautiful airport. My dad and I restored antique aircraft here when I was a kid. I’ve been working here in one capacity or another since 1965,” he told AIN.

“The airport has a 9,000-foot all-weather runway and a 5,000-foot cross runway. There’s a control tower, 24-hour fire protection and the entire airport is secured with designated security entry points. We have everything from Cubs to Gulfstreams and it’s also home base to the Air National Guard and Army National Guard. It’s a great place for general aviation.”

Potts soloed at the airport on his 16th birthday, obtained his private pilot certificate at age 17 and his commercial certificate a year later. In 1965 he began working for the local FBO, first as a line service attendant pumping gas and tending to aircraft, and eventually moving into the shop to help do maintenance. During that period he attended East Coast Aerotech and graduated in 1969 with his A&P certificate; within three years he was a designated IA. 

In 1973 Potts took a position with one of the FBO’s tenants who had bought some Citations and was getting into jet management. “Initially they brought me on as a mechanic, but by 1977 I’d moved up to director of maintenance,” he said. “When I took that position I had three mechanics and began building the program. Eventually we had 27 employees spanning three shifts and became an FAR 145 repair station working on aircraft ranging from Citations to Falcon 50s.”

In 1986 the owner of the company passed away and Potts decided it was time to start his own company. He spent the next two years working for a consulting firm to bring in a paycheck and used his free time to build the infrastructure necessary to start his own MRO. AirFlyte opened its doors in 1988.

Potts said the MRO’s name was the result of his family’s interest in the old Nash Airflyte car. “My dad bought several Nash Airflytes in the early 1950s and we still own, and regularly drive, four of them. Most people don’t remember the name Airflyte, but they remember Nash had a car in those days with seats that would fold down flat; that was the Airflyte. My son is the third generation to drive the same car.”

Potts said when it came time to name the business the idea was floated almost as a joke, but after he thought about it he realized the name had a nice connection to aviation. Concerned about possible copyright issues he capitalized the letter “F” in Airflyte.

“I opened our doors in 1988 with three mechanics and one administrative person. I was fortunate that I had a following of customers from the other position so we got off to a good start. Within about five years business was so good we became a Part 145 operation,” Potts said. “We worked on King Airs, Citations and Hawkers mainly.  We’ve since added Beechjets and Falcon 50s to the certificate.”

The FAR 145 repair station employs 10 technicians and six administrative personnel in a 36,000-sq-ft facility. In addition to the models listed on its certificate, the facility is approved to perform maintenance on all aircraft under 12,500 pounds. It’s approved under FAR 91.411 and FAR 91.413 to do pitot static and transponder testing (RVSM qualified) and FAR 135 qualified maintenance.

The company can do extensive sheet metal work in-house but brings in a third party for upholstery work. Hot sections are done on the premises by bringing in outside support. AirFlyte also does minor avionics installations and has two avionics techs. The company sends technicians to FlightSafety, SimuFlite and Global Jet Services for training.

In addition to maintenance, the company offers management, aircraft storage, office space, WSI weather services, flight tracking and has high-speed wireless Internet. Potts said two years ago he added the most up-to-date and environmentally friendly fuel farm available. AirFlyte now carries 20,000 gallons of jet fuel and 5,000 gallons of avgas. “We have some of the lowest-priced fuel you’re going to find anywhere,” he said.

One drawback of success is that it taxes capacity. “We currently have NDT available on demand through a third-party provider but will have in-house NDT facilities when we open our new 20,000-square-foot hangar in June,” Potts said. “The addition will accommodate [aircraft up to the size of] GIVs and will include offices and a lobby.”

Potts said the new hangar, for which the company recently broke ground, will meet the needs of existing, long-time customers who are moving into larger aircraft. “We just didn’t have sufficient facilities to accommodate them so we opted to add the new hangar. We’re currently operating at capacity, but when it opens we’ll have some excess capacity again and will be looking to add to our tenant list.”

Potts said he’s particularly interested in finding operators who have their own maintenance crews. “We will have sufficient floor and office space in the new hangar for them to do routine maintenance and we’ll supplement them when they need additional help,” he said.

“I know it’s not a common thing to do as most lessors have it in their contract that you can’t do your own maintenance, but we’ve always been about doing the right thing for our customers. We don’t cut corners and we have the right people to do the job.

“Our employees are the greatest bunch of people you could ever have,” Potts said. “We have very little turnover here; some of my people have been here since we first opened our doors and our newest mechanic has been here five years.”