SilverHawk Aviation: Nebraska operation turns attention to STC program

 - January 3, 2008, 6:10 AM

SilverHawk Aviation of Lincoln, Neb., parlayed its charter operations into a successful FBO and maintenance business, according to general manager Dan Hinnah.

Hinnah retired from a management position in the pharmaceutical industry in 1990 but has been involved in aviation for many years. “I flew a succession of general aviation aircraft, including Bonanzas, Twin Cessnas and a Piper Seneca for personal and business reasons starting as far back as 1976,” he told AIN.

Retirement gave him the freedom to pursue flying, so he began working as
a part-time charter pilot for SilverHawk Aviation. That move eventually led him to become a part owner of the business.

SilverHawk Aviation has been in business since 1990, beginning as a charter operation in Seward, Neb., operating a Cessna 414. The operation moved to Lincoln in 1995 and became a full-service FBO offering fuel, maintenance, avionics, charter, rentals and a flight school. 

During the 1990s the charter operation grew to 15 airplanes and more than 20 pilots, including a fixed-wing air ambulance. The fleet consisted primarily of King Airs and Citations and, because the company supported its own fleet with maintenance, it gained a lot of maintenance experience working on those aircraft.

When the owner of SilverHawk decided he wanted to sell the business in 2006, he asked if Hinnah was interested, so he contacted John Gillum and Ken Hiegel, two friends who shared his interest in aviation.

Gillum was a former naval aviator with an MBA from Yale and had worked for several years in banking and finance. “John had a passion for aviation and the financial background to spearhead the purchase,” Hinnah said. He became the company’s president.

“John brought in the people with the necessary capital, Ken had the technical expertise, and I agreed to run the operation. So in July 2006 we bought SilverHawk Aviation and became partners,” Hinnah said. There are also two silent financial backers.

Hinnah said from the outset the partners vowed to focus on putting the company on a track of growth and profitability, leaving Hinnah free to focus on building a team of capable and experienced people.

“To that end I brought in four A&Ps and two avionics technicians in the last year to add to our existing base. We now have a team of seven A&Ps and three avionics technicians with the capability to work on any airplane from piston singles through light jets,” he said.

Ken Hiegel, director of engineering, is an aeronautical engineer who worked for Gulfstream and later provided quality control for Midcoast Aviation in Little Rock. Hiegel also directed development of the SilverHawk 135 King Air engine upgrade STC and closely monitors every installation.

“We have an STC to install PT6A-135A engines on the King Air C90, C90A, C90B and E90. It replaces or renews everything possible from the firewall forward,” he said. “We know which parts are required before the airplane arrives, and we keep the long lead-time items in stock so we are regularly able to turn a conversion in three weeks, versus the more common six weeks if a shop waited until the aircraft arrived before ordering parts. Our experience in doing engine conversions translates to fewer labor hours and therefore a competitive installation price. Because of our experience doing installations we can commit to a firm installed price and owners deal with only a single party through the entire process.”

Hinnah also said that because the company is capable of handling any inspection, maintenance or avionics work, it can save clients time and money by doing other work at the same time as the STC. “We have a close relationship with an interior shop. Doing interior work during the STC installation is a complementary fit with similar timelines,” he said.

Working with Other Service Providers
Hinnah said the company plans to expand its STC business. “We contract out some of the development work, but for the most part Ken handles the management and development. He has a lot of experience in developing STCs over the years, including engineering design and working closely with the FAA. We’re looking at various possibilities, including the avionics market and upgrading panels on older aircraft.”

Being based on the same airport as Duncan Aviation might be intimidating to some management teams, but Hinnah said it’s a positive situation.

“Our focus is on single-engine pistons up through light jets, and we have a lot of expertise. We don’t compete with Duncan because they focus on light jets and up; we’re complementary. We often refer work to one another.”

SilverHawk Aviation operates a 40,000-sq-ft facility, of which 30,000 sq ft are dedicated to maintenance and avionics. There is also 15,000 sq ft of aircraft storage hangar space separate from the main building. Hinnah said the FBO lobby and office area are currently being remodeled and are scheduled to be completed this month.

The company has 45 employees, including the 10 technicians, and is a service center for Cessna, Cirrus, Mooney and Pratt & Whitney Canada. It offers extensive experience maintaining King Airs from the Model 90 to the 350 and the Models 500, 501, 550 and 525 Citations. SilverHawk is also an authorized dealer for Garmin, Honeywell and S-Tec, and it supplies and installs instrumentation from Garmin, Honeywell, Sandel and Goodrich.

SilverHawk has an agreement with Hillaero Modification Center on the airport. “It’s one of the best paint and interior shops in the country,” Hinnah said. “It offers complete interior refurbishment and modifications, floor changes, exterior paint, aeromed conversions, cabinetry and ice shield boots to name a few. It fits right into our promise to provide the best, most complete service available to our customers.”