Wing Aviation opens new Texas bizjet support base

 - May 8, 2008, 11:47 AM

Over the last few decades cities have been witnessing corporate migrations from traditional business and residential cores to the suburbs. In the case of Houston, the fourth-largest city in the U.S., the move has been predominantly toward the north, where the Gulf of Mexico’s wetlands give way to a more idyllic setting of pine forests, rolling hills and woodland lakes.

These open spaces are what drew John Wing to live in Conroe, a city of 37,000 located about 30 miles north of Houston. Wing, whose primary business is building and financing power plants throughout the world, is also involved in real estate and investments. He is one of the original founding backers of the Samuel Adams brewery. At first, Wing based his Learjet and then a Gulfstream II at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in North Houston.

“One day I was sitting in traffic after a three-and-a-half-hour flight from the East Coast and realized it would take about the same amount of time to get home from the airport,” Wing observed. “The next day, we began looking for a more convenient place to base.”

It was an easy search: Montgomery County Airport (CXO), a modest but adequate facility, was virtually in his back yard. Its two runways were 6,000 and 4,000 ft long; it had GPS, Rnav, ILS, NDB and VOR/DME approaches and an FSS; and he found a hangar large enough for his airplane. In addition, it offered an opportunity.

“One of the frustrations we had as aircraft owners was that we had to go to different locations to get different things done,” Wing explained. “Each shop would have to take the airplane apart, do the work, and then put it back together to send it to another shop. That adds time, and when you’re in an airplane this size, extra days add up to a significant amount of money.”

In a nutshell, Wing decided that if other facilities couldn’t do the job the way he would like it done, he’d just have to start his own shop. Now up and running, that facility is known as Wing Aviation.

“As aircraft owners, we experienced the challenges of scheduling efficient service and main- tenance,” said John’s son, Brian Wing, president of Wing Aviation. “We felt there weren’t enough facilities in the country to meet the demands of corporate aircraft, so we created a destination that has it all.”

The single hangar covers 40,000 sq ft, back shops and offices add another 20,000 sq ft and a free-standing paint facility has 14,500 sq ft of space. Wing Aviation is a full-service, Air BP-branded FBO, capable of handling most types of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, avionics, paint and interiors. The emphasis will be on Gulfstreams II through V, but the operation can accommodate all mid- and large-cabin aircraft.

Wing singled out director of operations and maintenance manager Frank Zimmerman as a key player in the facility’s success. Zimmerman, who headed Tenneco’s flight operations in Houston for 17 years, came to Wing after his company’s flight operation relocated to New York last year.

Wing said, “In all our businesses, we have a standard of quality and customer service that we think is the best. We think there’s room in this business to say to people, ‘These tasks will be done to this airplane by this date,’ and they can have a high degree of certainty that they can show up on that day at eight in the morning and it will, in fact, be done.”

As a matter of fact, four Gulfstreams have already left Wing’s shops, and Zimmerman pointed out proudly that two were finished ahead of time and under budget.

“We prefer to have representatives of the owner with the airplane,” he explained. “We have four dedicated offices for them, with telephones, a secretary, access to the Internet and even a workout room–and they have full access to their airplane at all times.”

Even though Wing Aviation is a startup operation, it will be in competition with Gulfstream’s maintenance and modification business, which begs the question, is Wing working toward a possible business arrangement with the factory?

“We’re not going to go out of our way to try to convince the factory to change its rules,” answered Wing, “but if they would like to establish a relationship that is helpful both to them and us, we would be all for it. I don’t think it will be too long before we come up on their radar screen, but I expect we’ll have a good relationship.”

Not one to sit and wait for business to come to him, Wing is already thinking about another venture for the operation. He believes transporting corporate mid- and lower-level employees is an emerging business-aviation market. He also suggested that Wing Aviation may dip its toe in the fractional-ownership market.

“We need to sit down with a couple of fractional [operators] and understand their maintenance processes and arrangements,” he said. “My question: is there going to be another fractional process that emerges with older aircraft? I think the answer is yes. I think in a year’s time we could be scouring The Woodlands [a planned community near Conroe] to find 30 people that have a use, and group them in fives or eights with others who have similar uses. Then we would do what we do best–step up with the capital, put the place and the people together to manage it, buy the assets and put the people in them and have all those elements touch our profit center. That would be us coming down the funnel–not trying to crawl against gravity.”

Wing Aviation had its official grand opening October 19, with about 350 friends and customers dining in the hangar (and presumably drinking Samuel Adams). Whatever John Wing’s plans for the future might be, he relished the moment. He said, “I wanted to see this day happen first–real, live customers with real, live work!”