Darnell Martens, president and CEO of Vitesse, has devoted his career to business aviation. He began his career with Booz, Allen & Hamilton and at age 22 left the position of senior consultant to cofound American Helicopters, the first of several business aviation companies. American Helicopters was acquired by Richard Santulli and renamed Executive Jet Management, and Martens was a member of the founding management team that created NetJets. Later he was instrumental in the development of Aviation Research Group/U.S. (ARG/US), coauthored the business plan for the creation of the Raytheon Travel Air fractional aircraft ownership program, and coauthored the business plan for Flight Options.
Vitesse, located in the Indianapolis area, is the operations base for Vitesse FlightPartners, a company that offers “strategic jet partnerships” that combine elements of whole airplane ownership with those of fractional ownership.
According to Martens, the company operates Hawker 800s and 850s and is adding an average of one Hawker per quarter to its operation. Its maintenance facility is dedicated to the fleet and doesn’t provide third-party maintenance.
“In the process of developing Vitesse we became aware of a 25-year-old public company called TXI Aviation on Dallas Love Field,” Martens said. TXI was an FBO and had a flight operations department, but Vitesse, which was looking to expand in the South, was interested primarily in its maintenance operation. It acquired the company in May 2006 and took it private.
The operation was renamed Vitesse Aviation Services and became a wholly owned operating unit of Vitesse. Some 26,000 sq ft of the 47,000-sq-ft facility is dedicated to the FAR Part 145 maintenance and repair operation. The company will break ground this month for an additional 55,000 sq ft of hangar and office space to support the aircraft management and aircraft maintenance divisions. The project is expected to be completed by the end of next year. Part of the more than $6.5 million in infrastructure and equipment includes new CNC machines that will allow the company to double the amount of maintenance it currently does.
Martens said the repair and overhaul component (ROC) business is expanding internationally and the company plans to add some more off-airport space to accommodate the growth.
The company is increasing the types of aircraft for which it offers landing gear work and is significantly expanding its machine shop capability, but Martens emphasizes that the focus is doing low-volume, high-precision parts.
“We’ve done seat tracks for Southwest Airlines by scanning one of theirs into our CNC machine then producing new parts in a matter of days. We can typically beat the OEM’s price and required lead time.”
Martens pointed to a particular niche market where there is little competition. “We’re really in a good position to produce parts for aircraft that are no longer made or supported. We have our own FAA designated engineer representative on staff,” he said.
Of the company’s 52 full-time and 10 part-time employees, 35 are dedicated to maintenance and four are avionics techs. All of the company’s aircraft technicians are A&P licensed.
The maintenance shop has general metalwork capability including milling, turning, honing and grinding to do specialized parts repair and rototype work. Other capabilities include shot peen and roto peen surface treatment, heat treat for stainless steel and aluminum alloys, stress relief processes for high-strength steel, brush plating (SIFCO process) and metal finishing such as chrome, nickel and cadmium plating and anodizing. It also has non-destructive testing and non-destructive inspection, including magnetic particle, fluorescent dye penetrant and eddy current.
Vitesse Aviation Services offers major and minor repairs and alterations, scheduled and unscheduled aircraft maintenance and inspections (A, B and C checks) and Part 135 maintenance and conformity checks. The company has extensive experience on the Citation 500/501, 550/551, S550, 560, 525, Bravo, Ultra and 650; Falcon 10/100, 20/200, 50 and 900; Hawker 700, 800, 800XP, 850XP and 1000; Beechjet 400 and MU-300.
“We also routinely perform engine line maintenance services on the Garrett TFE731 and ATF3, General Electric CF700 and CJ610, and Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D, PW530A and PW305,” Martens said. It also offers complete avionics systems troubleshooting, service, repair and installations, including RVSM, TAWS, ELT and TCAS for all aircraft.
Martens said the company is always on the lookout for potential acquisitions. “We’re looking in specific geographic regions that will complement our existing facility…but we have no aggressive time frame. We’ll wait as long as it takes for the right company to come along.”