By Jeff Price
Many of us fondly recall customer service the way we recall family dinners without TV, full-service gas stations and Dick Clark on “American Bandstand.” We yearn for their return, knowing in our hearts that they are simply things of the past.
Kevin Lacey, general manager of Addison Express, is one who remembers customer service, back when it meant the manager comped your meal when it was wrong and even gave you a coupon to come back.
“I’ve been the customer before and I know how I like to be treated,” Lacey said.
At the fixed base operation, says Lacey, line service personnel and customer service representatives behind the counter have all been thoroughly trained and made aware that “customer service” is their primary function. After all, without the customer, says Lacey, there is “no reason to exist.”
“If we sit there and watch that airplane taxi to the other FBO, or if we come out here and don’t provide the service, our competition surely will,” explains Lacey.
Lacey proudly characterizes the operation as more than just an FBO. Addison Express is an “aviation-related, aviation-oriented customer service facility.”
“We do charters and maintenance and we provide fuel and concierge service for transient customers from one end of the country to the other,” he said.
Located in northern Dallas at Addison Airport, Addison Express has focused on customer service since its doors first opened in October 1998. The business has grown over the past five years, and today offers a full range of FBO services including their charter operation, featuring three Lear 35s on the air carrier operating certificate, which is authorized for operations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. SimuFlite or Flight Safety trains all the flight crews.
With the largest ramp on the airport, Addison Express offers three taxiways to its facility, making towing operations rare. Lacey is concerned about both the safety hazards in towing an aircraft and the customer service aspect.
“We don’t usually have to put a tow bar on the airplane and move it all over the place,” he says.
With the large ramp, when an aircraft parks it usually remains in the same spot, as compared to some smaller facilities where the tow bar is attached nearly before the passengers are off the plane.
The facility itself boasts 60 employees, a 135 air carrier certificate, an FAA Part 145 certified repair station, six fuel trucks, four tugs, three GPUs, lavatory trucks and plenty of tow bars—should the need arise.
As for Lacey, he is an ATP rated pilot with five jet type ratings and an airframe and power plant certificate. With over 30 years of experience in aviation, he worked his way up through the industry, first as a mechanic working in major service centers. Eventually, as he earned more ratings, the job offers started coming his way to fly-for-hire. He was soon piloting a Cessna Citation 550 and flying for a living. He also had to maintain the airplane; his prior experience as a crew chief with a major Cessna Citation service center gave him the necessary knowledge to handle the job. He continues to put that mechanical experience to work particularly when it comes to Learjets, Falcons and Citations.
“I know those the best,” he said. “I can talk to the customer about their airplane. When they call me with a discrepancy I can almost put myself in the cockpit right next to them and (imagine) what it is they’re seeing and perceiving to be a discrepancy, and perhaps help interpolate that.”
“This is the real deal,” says Lacey. “This is the guy who has a toolbox in the hangar right now and was actually out there servicing an O2 system on an airplane yesterday morning. ”
Lacey continues to fly with the customers, helping deliver airplanes and move them around when needed.
“I don’t mind doing that one bit,” he says.
The FBO operation includes Exxon Avitat gas and the usual expected amenities like crew cars, a flight planning and weather forecasting room, a pilot lounge, individual hangars and plenty of tie-down space and catering. Passenger comforts include conference rooms, a complimentary shuttle, the making of hotel reservations, an executive lounge and waiting area, plus on-site rental cars and limousine service.
The facility also features a new 22,500-square-foot corporate aircraft storage hangar with 17 offices totaling 2,500 square feet of office space. Line personnel are trained using ExxonMobil’s Premier Care certification system.
Lacey points out that most of the line service and a large portion of the people in customer service are private pilots, student pilots or flight instructors.
“The types of people that we’re looking to hire have this illness called ‘aviation’ in their blood,” explains Lacey. “They just want to be at the airport. I was struck with it when I was 16 years old, and I’ll be stuck with it for the rest of my life, so I guess I’m just going to make sure I surround myself with people who have the same illness.”
Those types of people, Lacey finds, care more about what they’re doing and are more diligent and safety conscious, understanding the nature and delicacy of the airplanes. He feels it goes a long way in paying dividends with the respect they show to the customers’ equipment. In turn, the customer notices and appreciates it.
Addison Express is also in the aircraft management field, offering their expertise to those who don’t want to mess with flying, hiring, training and paying pilots. The company provides turnkey management program support and aircraft servicing from specialty services to the management of day-to-day maintenance needs, including routine inspections and overnight checks and defect rectification.
Maintenance is another area where Lacey puts the focus on customer service.
“I know what it’s like to look at an invoice and see that somebody’s been gouging the heck out of you, then try to argue the invoice,” he said.
Having a maintenance background, says Lacey, he is aware that mechanics have been known to do “a drive-by” on a work order and a timecard during the day.
“It does not take 32 hours to change a tire,” he says. “I know better than that. When it comes down to sending an invoice out the door for maintenance, I sit down and audit the thing myself before it goes out the door.”
Honesty sometimes comes with a price. Lacey once hired a technician, who, the first day on the job, dropped a starter-generator that cost $4,000 to fix. Lacey called the customer, explained the problem and paid to fix it.
“I know that other facilities would have tried to figure out how to charge them for that, but I couldn’t feel good about myself or true to the customer,” says Lacey.
A complete avionics set up is also available. Addison Express is a Rockwell Collins and Garmin avionics dealer and will also do avionics installations.
Working with the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t always been easy for those in the industry; however, Lacey seems to have found the key.
“The FAA has come to know us,” he said. “I told them a long time ago I wanted to be the outfit by which they measure all others. When you first start out with the FAA, they think you’re playing cops and robbers with them; as time goes on, they eventually get the idea that you’re doing it the right way.”
Like others in the industry, Addison Express has felt recent economic challenges.
“Business is a little off right now,” Lacey said. “I feel like I should have a hole in my head for trying to start a business as the economy is starting a downward slide.”
Nonetheless, business is good and Lacey believes they will emerge from this latest economic slump even stronger.
“My shop is full and busy,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I’m not sure how we’re getting all the work we have on our plate done, but we are. We’re full speed ahead, going full tilt.”
The big questions is: Can Addison Express continue to provide the high level of service for which they pride themselves, during these unstable economic times?
“I intend to do everything I can to treat every potential customer that walks in our door the way I would like to be treated as a customer,” says Lacey.
For more information, visit [http://www.addisonexpress.com], and request a free CD highlighting their services.