Wing Aviation: Building business one friend at a time

 - March 30, 2007, 10:41 AM

“I remember my father was going to visit the President of Turkey,” Brian Wing, president of Wing Aviation, told AIN. “Our Gulfstream II was in the shop for maintenance and we were told we’d have it back in plenty of time. Well, they didn’t have a part in stock and nobody bothered to tell us until the last minute that we weren’t getting our airplane back. That’s when Frank suggested we could do it better ourselves and for less money.”

Frank Zimerman, Wing’s director of operations, said, “I can’t say we ever had a bad maintenance visit, but we never had great ones either. I always felt customer service wasn’t their number-one priority. There were scheduling glitches, missed due dates and charges we were never informed about.” The overdue GII, and Zimerman’s recommendation, led to the September 2002 opening of Wing Aviation.

Wing Aviation (www.wingaviation.com) is located on Montgomery County Airport (CXO) in Conroe, Texas, just north of Houston. While the company initially focused on Gulfstream maintenance, it has grown considerably in a short time. In fact, the company now has 50 employees dedicated to maintenance, overhaul and refurbishment.

“We have a well seasoned crew,” Zimerman said. “Several very experienced people joined us when they were laid off from local corporate flight departments. They brought a breadth of knowledge; you can pick any four of my seasoned guys and you’ve got a cumulative 100 years of experience.” Today the company has repair station certification for the Gulfstream II, III, IV and V; Hawker 600, 700, 800, 800XP and 1000; and Learjets. “But our maintenance staff is qualified to do minor maintenance on most jet aircraft,” he said.

Wing designed and built a 75,000-sq-ft facility containing 40,000 sq ft of hangar space and 18,000 sq ft of office and shop space. It includes avionics and interior divisions and an FBO associated with Air BP. The repair station has FAA designated engineering representatives (DERs) and can do structural repairs; major airframe inspections and repairs; custom interior refurbishment and upgrades; damage repair estimates and evaluations; and performance and safety enhancements. The facility also offers non-destructive testing; inspections for stress, fatigue and corrosion; technical appraisals; and complete interior installation and refurbishment.

Wing Aviation is an authorized dealer for Rockwell Collins, Universal and Honeywell, providing avionics maintenance, upgrade and installation. Its avionics services include Class I, II and III; routine inspections; performance and safety enhancements; integrated flight systems; and satcom and satellite television system installations. Wing’s communication and navigation equipment upgrade capabilities include TAWS, FMS, GPS, IRS, TCAS, RVSM, FM immunity and 8.33-kHz spacing.

Wing Aviation also has a 17,000-sq-ft paint facility large enough for a Global Express or Gulfstream V. The facility’s air system can reduce humidity to allow the sprayed product to set and cure faster, and with a higher quality, than conventional paint booths. The building is monitored by an automatic control system to ensure that exhaust fans keep a positive pressure in the building. A combination of overhead and floor lighting makes the paint shop’s work area virtually shadowless to render a true depiction of the color being applied.

Wing Aviation’s FBO includes lounges with televisions, DVD players and VCRs and a movie library. Customers also have access to a private conference room, a flight-planning room equipped with a WSI weather station, an in-house gym with showers and locker rooms, an on-site concierge service, car rental, catering and hangar storage.

The FBO is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. but, exemplifying the philosophy behind the company, Wing said, “we are available 24 hours a day at no additional charge. Just call ahead to make arrangements.” The heavy emphasis on customer service comes from the top.

The Best Surprise Is No Surprise

John Wing, chairman and CEO, hated surprises when others were working on his GII. Wing has been involved in aviation since 1970, when he became an Army aviator and served in Vietnam. A West Point graduate with an MBA from Harvard University, Wing is recognized in the power industry as a major force in the development of independent powerplant projects. His name is linked to the Teesside project in Northern England and a major power project in Turkey. Through his company, The Wing Group, he also has successful power projects in China, Southeast Asia and Latin America. In addition, Wing is an original owner and board member of Boston Beer Company, which promotes Samuel Adams beer. Wing’s worldwide commitments keep him in the air frequently, so reliability is more than an advertising bullet point to him.

 “When Frank [Zimerman] suggested we could do a better job of maintaining our own aircraft, I immediately saw the potential,” [John] Wing said. “I envisioned a high-quality operation that puts customer service first. The kind of operation where your customers know your home telephone number and feel comfortable calling you if they’re having a problem. We’re not talking about small aircraft used for pleasure flying. These people own multimillion-dollar aircraft that are an integral part of their business plan.”

John Wing said the other half of the equation is the employees. “At the same time you are emphasizing taking care of your customers,” he said, “you also have to put heavy emphasis on taking care of your employees. You can’t have a happy customer if you don’t have a happy employee. How many times have you been unhappy with service somewhere and the employee rolls his eyes and says, ‘I know, I know, but the boss says we have to do it this way.’ Well, that’s not going to happen at Wing Aviation. We are very close to our customers.”

Brian Wing agreed: “We really do have an open-door policy. We all make ourselves available to our customers. On the rare occasion that there’s been a problem, we have traveled anywhere necessary to make it good. What we’re really selling here is that when we say something, we’ll do it.”

In an industry in which accountants are increasingly running service providers with no personal interest in aviation, Wing Aviation is steadfast in being a family-run operation. Management and employees see themselves as part of, and obligated to, the customer and their community. Last year the company established the Wing Aviation Scholarship in conjunction with the Houston chapter of the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) and Westwood College of Aviation Technology in Houston.

Initially, a scholarship will be awarded to one student per year. As the fund increases, Wing will increase the number of scholarships available. During this past January’s Super Bowl, the company organized a party at its location for pilots flying Wing clients into Houston for the big game. The company offered ramp space when other Houston airport ramps were full and entertained the pilots.

Wing’s vendors donated to the scholarship fund and were on-hand on Super Bowl Sunday to chat with the pilots about their maintenance concerns. The events of the day, which were free to the pilots, included a golf tournament with catered lunch, a chili cook off in the afternoon and a continuous buffet amid an elaborate Super Bowl party. The best part was that the donations provided about half the 2004 scholarship goal of $20,000.

“Business schools don’t emphasize things like honesty, timeliness, craftsmanship and obligation anymore,” John Wing said. “But those are the things that really make a successful business. It isn’t about doing anything necessary for the bottom line; it’s doing anything necessary for your customers and community. Look, this isn’t rocket science–all we’ve really done is build a business we wish we could have found when we were in the market.”