Stevens Settles In at Macon; Adjusts to a New Identity

 - March 27, 2019, 11:59 AM

Stevens Aerospace and Defense Systems—the freshly rebranded name for the former Stevens Aviation—recently welcomed the public to its newest facility at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon. Stevens is moving its large-cabin business jet operation from the company headquarters facility in Greenville, North Carolina, to Macon. Bombardier previously occupied the 48,000-sq-ft hangar. Late last year, Stevens signed a three-year agreement with the Bibb County Commission, which operates the city-owned airport, and holds two five-year extension options.

Stevens chief financial officer Neal McGrail told AIN at the grand opening celebration he’s very pleased with the rapid ramp-up in Gulfstream business. “We’re already generating revenue,” he said, nodding to a pair of G450s on the hangar floor. The two jets, owned by brokers who intend to sell them, are in for ADS-B avionics upgrades, Gogo connectivity suites, and interior refurbishment. “We hope to be able to add a paint shop here in Macon,” said McGrail, a Macon resident who currently spends Mondays through Fridays at Stevens’s headquarters in Greenville, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Macon. Some of his colleagues joked that they were watching to see if he would begin to spot “critical issues” in Macon that might require his personal attention.

As McGrail sat, representatives from Bibb County stopped by to chat about the successful integration of Stevens in the county. With his friends and neighbors, he discussed local infrastructure issues, such as a historic water-treatment plant. “If there’s one thing we have in Bibb County, it’s plenty of water,” he said. Abundant water supply is important for modern paint shop facilities. The new facility is expected to eventually create 150 jobs for the region’s workforce. The nearby Central Georgia Technical College could help supply trained workers.

Stevens director of sales and marketing Phil Stearns discussed the recent rebranding. “We’re still getting the new business cards and company shirts,” he said. Stearns explained that the new name brings into focus the military and industrial capability that has existed for several years. “There are always a lot of olive drab and gray aircraft on our ramp up in Greenville,” he said, “but now, when people not familiar with us see the company name, they can tell right away that we’re more than a business aviation company.”

Steady Demand

Stearns described Rick Screen, who was brought in to serve as the operations manager in Macon, as a Gulfstream “guru.” Screen told AIN he’d worked at Gulfstream for many years, and has great respect for the factory service center in Savannah, Georgia, about two-and-a-half hours’ drive to the east. “But for older Gulfstreams, we can provide more flexible options. The factory wants to do everything to factory-new standards, and sometimes that’s not the most practical solution. I mean, changing a tire is…changing a tire.”

Screen said Stevens’s target market for Gulfstream operators starts once the factory warranty expires. He believes the location, reasonably close to Savannah, is an advantage, as potential customers would have been acclimated to traveling to the area. Shifting to Macon from Savannah should not be too big of a leap, he said. He said he’s satisfied he’s built a good team of experienced Gulfstream technicians who can provide the most efficient service for operators of legacy models. “This is a great market. You can pick one of these up for $3- to $5 million, and it’s a very capable international airplane."

One reason for the quick ramp-up in activity is the coming ADS-B equipage mandate, and regional sales manager Jeff Hannie said he had just signed a deal to bring in a third G450, starting with an avionics upgrade, but also involving other work. The crowded ADS-B landscape is seen as a good kickstart to getting new customers familiar with Stevens in Macon, and potentially leading to further work once they get to know the company.

Stevens also anticipates a lot of FANS-1/A compliance work; initially for operators who plan to fly internationally.

Terry Hawkins started out sweeping floors for Stevens in Greenville fresh out of high school in the 1970s and worked his way up through most of the jobs there. He is now a regional sales manager based in Greenville. “I thought back then it was going to be a summer job before going off to college,” he told AIN, “but I never left.” He said Stevens’s family atmosphere and “being proud of the quality of what we do” keeps him motivated. “I can tell customers what goes on on the shop floor because I’ve been there,” he said.

With its 6,500-foot main runway (5,000-ft second runway), KMCN recently added an Embraer maintenance facility, for now, dedicated to regional jets. As Stevens settles in, perhaps adding a paint shop in the near future, the airport is making a name for itself as an attractive MRO location.