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Business Aviation Insider

November/December 2014, Management & Money Matters Issue of Business Aviation Insider

Business Aviation a Pipeline to Success

After utilizing airplanes to support its business for decades, one Texas company has transitioned into providing aircraft management, charter and maintenance services.

Spend some time with W. Stanley Baker Jr. and you quickly realize he is not your typical business owner or aviation enthusiast. Baker, age 75, recognized from his earliest days outside his childhood home in Corpus Christi, TX that aviation was in his future.

“There were huge naval training areas throughout that part of Texas, and as a young boy I’d watch those guys flying around,” he recalled. “Every time I’d see one fly by, I decided that I was going to do that, too, someday.”

Baker translated his love for aviation into using aircraft as tools to support several enterprises, beginning in his late 20s. While working for the family business – Safety Seal Piston Ring Company, a manufacturer of industrial piston rings for diesel, gas and steam engines – he recognized the limitations of relying upon the airlines and ground transportation.

“The pipeline natural gas industry operates throughout the United States,” explained Baker. “If someone has a problem in Big Piney, WY, it’s not in a place you can reach by car quickly, so it’s an all-day trip using airlines. I convinced my father that if he let me buy a company airplane, I could demonstrate [improved] results.”

Soon, Baker was flying a Cessna 182 to job sites across the country, delivering parts and resolving maintenance and equipment issues. “The airplane basically allowed me to duplicate myself and my talents.”

Use of Aircraft Drives Growth and Expansion

As Safety Seal grew, Baker flew increasingly capable airplanes – a variety of piston singles and twins – and flying his airplane to Liberal, KS for an industry meeting in 1973 gave him an unusual opportunity to expand his company’s portfolio.

“One night a few of us were in my hotel room talking, when there was a knock on the door,” Baker said. “It was a guy who was disappointed that he would have to spend another day in town since his commercial flight was full. I told him that if he did not mind flying in a Cessna 210, I would take him to Dallas right then to pick up his car, so he could drive home to Marshall, TX. On the way home, I bought his company.”

That company was Wesco Valve and Engine Manufacturing, which supplies industrial valves used in natural gas pipelines. Not long after acquiring the firm, Baker’s business aircraft helped him win a big contract for the fledgling company.

“A chief engineer in Ohio called me and asked if we could visit the next time I was up there. I replied, ‘How about lunch tomorrow?’ I hopped in the plane, took him to lunch and won a $435,000 order for valves. That was more than our total sales up to that point, and business aviation helped make it possible.”

Expansion Into Aircraft Charter and Servicing

In 2008, Baker parlayed his experience with business aircraft into Baker Aviation, which offers aircraft management and on-demand charter services at Fort Worth’s Meacham International Airport. Baker’s son Stanley Baker III, known as “Stan,” manages the company.

Soon after graduating from college, the younger Baker started flying a King Air 200 for a West Coast FAR Part 135 operation. The elder Baker recalled, “He told me, ‘Dad, you really need to come out and see what I’m doing out here.’” After seeing the West Coast charter operation, Baker realized it would be “natural” for him to expand into charter “after using these airplanes for several decades on my own.”

Baker Aviation has grown substantially over the past two years, adding new aircraft and with plans to expand into a second hangar within the next several months.

After experiencing a range of issues over the years with outside maintenance providers, Baker brought maintenance, repair and overhaul service under the company umbrella through the acquisition of Part 145 facility Aeromech in 2010. Now located at Addison Airport, Baker Aviation Maintenance services a variety of business jets. The company supplements its staff of 16 full-time technicians with contract specialists as needed.

In addition to maintaining customer aircraft and offering pre-buy inspections, Baker Aviation Maintenance also works on the company’s in-house charter fleet. The company recently moved into a third hangar facility at Addison Airport, providing room to service as many as 10 midsize business aircraft. The company also operates a mobile aircraft on-ground vehicle that can respond 24/7.

Exceeding Expectations, Thanks to Aviation

From his time flying a single-engine airplane to support the family business, to today riding in the back of his Cessna Citation III and overseeing a growing maintenance and charter operation, the elder Baker acknowledged his good fortune in using aviation to support his businesses.

“I have been at this for 54 years, and I’ve learned how people expect business to be done. Business aviation has helped me to exceed those expectations.”

Institutionalized Safety Practices

Even as Baker Aviation has expanded rapidly, Stan Baker, III has stressed the importance of maintaining a safe operation, including a requirement that all chartered aircraft be flown with two-pilot crews, and that all pilots in command are required to have a minimum of 5,000 flight hours.

Baker Aviation also utilizes a safety management system and audit program to assess the risk of every flight.

“That offers the opportunity to assess [the safety of] every flight segment,” Stan explained. “At a certain threshold, the trip will require approval from the chief pilot and director of operations. That keeps new guys and pilots with ‘get-homeitis’ from taking an airplane into something that it really shouldn’t be taken into.”

Snapshot: Baker Aviation

Employees 40 employees between Baker Aviation and Baker Aviation Maintenance, including contract workers and pilots; 80 employees at Safety Seal Piston Ring and Wesco Valve and Engine Manufacturing.

Aircraft: Eight aircraft owned or managed by Baker Aviation, including a Cessna Citation III, Dassault Falcon 50 and 2000, two Beechcraft King Air 200s and a Piaggio Avanti I. The Citation and King Airs also support Safety Seal and Wesco operations.

Safety: Baker Aviation has its own safety management system and risk-audit process that includes a requirement that two-person crews operate all charter flights. All company pilots undergo recurrent training at national training providers, including CAE SimuFlite and FlightSafety International.