The idea of opening a new Gulfstream repair station in southern Florida was evolutionary for Vincent Wolanin. Its roots go back to Wolanin’s days as chairman of TopNotch Entertainment, a rock-and-roll management company that worked with groups such as Aerosmith, Kiss, John Mellencamp and many others.
In February 1998 Wolanin was returning from Europe with his family on an airline flight. “We sat on that airplane for hours and my wife and children decided that flying commercially was a drag and not for us any longer,” he told AIN. “We decided as a family that we were going to get our own jet. All the way back from Germany we sat there throwing out ideas for a name for a proposed company that would own, operate and maintain the aircraft. We finally hit upon the idea of PrivateSky.”
Wolanin said in addition to using the aircraft personally, he wanted to give TopNotch Entertainment a high-end aircraft that could be used by touring rock groups. “Within a month of the Germany trip I knew I wanted to purchase a Gulfstream,” he said. So in March 1998 PrivateSky Aviation Services was formed and it bought a GII-SP.
“Once we got the GII, I began to meet other Gulfstream owners,” Wolanin said. “We’d run into one another and talk about airplanes. What I kept hearing from other Gulfstream owners was dissatisfaction with the attention to detail and quality of workmanship where they were getting their maintenance done.”
It was about that time that Wolanin and Royce Stevens met and became friends. Stevens, who would subsequently become PrivateSky’s general manager and a company director, worked at Gulfstream as chief inspector and also ran Gulfstream’s C-20 government program in Germany. “We talked it over and decided we wanted to design and build a state-of-the-art FAA-certified maintenance service center that would specialize in Gulfstreams,” Wolanin said.
The idea to specialize only in Gulfstreams was key to the enterprise. “A lot of these repair stations have a 50-mile-long list of aircraft on their repair station ticket. They’re not focused on anything. How can they be experts on so many different aircraft?” Wolanin asked. “We decided we wanted to concentrate on one specific aircraft type so we specialize in the Gulfstream II through V. Those aircraft are built like tanks and can fly forever with proper maintenance and care. We decided to be the facility that provided that expertise.”
PrivateSky Aviation Services is based at Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers. According to Wolanin, who is the company’s chairman, PrivateSky acquired Jet South, an 18-year-old FBO on the field, and set up shop in the existing 40,000-sq-ft offices and hangars. It was a perfect match because the facilities were located next door to the land where Wolanin planned on building his new maintenance and customer-service center.
Today, the original Jet South space is used for overflow maintenance, a cabin and refurb shop and storage of based aircraft. What’s been added to the existing facilities, and nearly one million square feet of paved ramp, is a new 62,000-sq-ft service center large enough to hold eight Gulfstreams.
“The new facility is completely air conditioned and humidity controlled so you don’t have to worry about problems with avionics,” Wolanin said. “It is constructed of reinforced concrete and structural steel. It’s rated to Stage 5 hurricane level. It has both foam fire suppression and sprinkler systems.”
Wolanin said the large facility has an overhead crane for removing aircraft empennages and pulling engines. PrivateSky can remove and change Rolls-Royce Spey and Tay engines on all Gulfstreams. The repair station also has a full avionics shop and a small shop for refurbishment of interiors. “We currently do not do completions,” Wolanin said, “but we may move into that area at some point. We also don’t do paint.”
Wolanin said one of the most common complaints he heard from other Gulfstream owners was when they were given a quote for a maintenance job it didn’t include all of the concurrent computerized maintenance program (CMP) codes. “You would get an estimated bill based on the CMP code for the task to be performed but it wouldn’t include all the other codes also required to do it. If you don’t include them all, you can wind up with a bill 50 percent higher than what it was quoted at,” he said.
“Another thing is it always seems to take a long time to get a complete quote in this industry. What we’ve done to address these problems is put in a computerized system that gives customers a complete quote in a few days. When you’re done, our whole system is integrated so the customer gets a complete bill when he’s finished,” Wolanin explained. “We sit down with him and review the bill to be sure he understands every item. In most places you don’t get the bill until weeks after the visit, and we’ve found that to be especially true with OEMs. Some poor pilot will pay maybe two-thirds of the anticipated bill, then the final bill comes in weeks later for a lot more than he expected and it makes him look bad in front of the boss. We don’t like that for ourselves and we don’t like it for our customers.”
PrivateSky’s FAA-certified repair station was developed by Wolanin and Stevens based on what they call a center-of-total-excellence philosophy. The company does scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, cabin refurbishment, avionics upgrades, technical appraisals, performance and safety enhancements and installs Rolls-Royce Spey engine hush kits to meet Stage 3 compliance. It views itself as a customer resource–a place where customers can get information, support, investment analysis and even aircraft damage repair estimates and evaluations.
PrivateSky also offers nondestructive testing, X-ray, corrosion and internal inspections and professional detailing. The repair station has also developed expertise converting government Gulfstream aircraft to civilian use. PrivateSky currently has 30 maintenance-related personnel and support staff. Wolanin sees that number increasing to 100 within the next two years. PrivateSky is also a full-service, gold-status Exxon Avitat FBO.
The company is currently in the process of implementing the private records program (PRP). “PRP has been developed as a permanent recording device and as an efficient maintenance control system. It will monitor and record the inspection, as well as service and component replacement paperwork, formatting it into a permanent record. PRP will be undergoing testing shortly and should be available in 2005,” Wolanin said.
“Our goal is to have customers leave satisfied and on time when visiting for scheduled maintenance,” Wolanin said. “We provide professional work so the owner doesn’t lose the dispatchability of the aircraft. We understand that no one likes to get chewed out by the boss for taking an aircraft somewhere and not having it ready on time.”