Ashley Bowen Cook,
vice president at Greteman Group, a marketing communications
agency based in Wichita, the Air Capital.
Doing the Right Thing
Aero Club gala had a hard act to follow.
Last year the evening honored my
dad, aviation photographer Paul Bowen. I say that somewhat facetiously, but it’s
true. Every year I feel the same. How can we possibly top the year before?
And yet, each year builds upon
everything that’s come before. The evening shimmers with vibrancy and passion
for this unique industry. Aviation taps something within each of us. The need to
push boundaries. To break free of the bonds of time and space. To transport
ourselves to new places, new people, new things.
The trophy announcement
was made at the National Business Aviation Association Convention in
Las Vegas. Last year’s honoree, Paul Bowen (left) shakes
Lynn Nichols’ hand after hearing the news. And, yes, that’s me
in the middle. Photo: Deanna Harms.
As head of the trophy selection
committee and gala chair since the event’s inception, I have the privilege of
bringing together a group of highly regarded industry colleagues to bestow this
honor upon a person or organization with strong Wichita ties and exemplary
achievements in aviation. Here in the Air Capital, you can imagine the number of
worthy nominees. Every year we face a tough choice.
A Shake-Things-Up Leader
This year’s gala honored Lynn
Nichols, CEO of Yingling Aviation, for his impact on both our community and
aviation. Nichols transformed the once-struggling Yingling Aviation into a FBO
jewel, leading parts distributor, customization shop and more. His many
contributions in aviation include helping lead the effort to restore and find a
home for the beloved Boeing B-29 Superfortress known as Doc.
Yingling Aviation CEO
Lynn Nichols, the Wichita Aero Club’s 2018 trophy winner.
Photo: Visual Media Group.
"It takes three of us to
introduce Lynn," said retired Spirit AeroSystems CEO Jeff Turner. Turner
peppered his introduction with personal anecdotes of their joint entrepreneurial
and community-building efforts. He was followed by Intrust Bank CEO Charlie
Chandler. As a licensed pilot for 45 years and a satisfied Yingling customer,
Chandler shared appreciation for Lynn and Yingling’s customer-first philosophy.
Yingling President Lonnie Vaughan talked about meeting Lynn in high school and
how the two came to join forces professionally.
When Nichols took the podium, he
said he felt out of his element, but you couldn't tell. He spoke earnestly about
his journey and ambitious, rapidly unfolding plans. Everyone who knows Nichols
says he's a leader who makes things happen.
First Order of Business: Transform the
Nichols purchased Yingling in
2000. An already not optimal general and business aviation climate grew even
harsher following the post-9/11 downturn. “For us, jet fuel is perfume,” Nichols
said. “After 9/11, we smelled none.”
But Nichols had a mission. He
bought Yingling because he saw room for improvement. He’d once hangared his
Cessna T210 there, but left due to less-than-optimal service.
first action as owner was to change the corporate culture. In
Nichols’ view you, “Spoil customers in ways that make it difficult
for them to go elsewhere.” Nichols leads by doing. He bought a floor
cleaner and set to work making a dingy Yingling shine. He solicited
customer service feedback and delivered it directly to staff. His
team got the message. Good enough was no longer good enough.
Nichols set about investing millions in renovations and adding
services at Yingling’s facility, located at Wichita Eisenhower
National Airport. Those included spaces for Caravan OASIS interior
completions and McCauley propeller overhaul and service, a larger
paint shop, battery rooms for testing and charging, expanded
shipping and receiving departments. A networked computer system
enabled greater customization and tailoring of services to customer
trophy honorees include the late Velma
Wallace (2011), Jeff Turner and
Spirit AeroSystems (2012), John O’Leary
and Airbus Americas Engineering (2013),
Russ Meyer (2014), Al Higdon
(2015), Doc’s Friends Restoration Team
(2016) and Paul Bowen (2017).
Seven Decades of Cessna Partnership
The company started life in 1946
as the first official Cessna dealer, taking possession of a Cessna 140
single-engine demonstrator from Cessna’s game-changing CEO, Dwane Wallace.
Buyers would come from all over the world to accept deliveries of their Cessna
120s and 140s at Yingling. Fast forward to today. Nichols has elevated Yingling
to a full-service, 24/7 fixed-base operation that serves as the largest Cessna
parts distributor and one of three top Cessna service centers. Second-to-none
service means AOG orders received before 11:30 in the morning ship the same day.
Its FAA and EASA-certified aircraft maintenance handles everything from
scheduled annuals to quick-turn repairs.
Wichita Aero Club President Dave
Franson says Nichols not only leads a company known for exemplary service and
business practices, but he has done so during difficult times in general and
business aviation. When the U.S. economy nosedived in the Great Recession of
2008, aviation in general and the Air Capital in particular were hit hard. And
they were among the last to recover.
Pictured left to right:
Dave Franson, Wichita Aero Club president; Jeff Turner,
retired Spirit AeroSystem CEO and 2011 Wichita Aero Club trophy
winner; Lynn Nichols, Yingling Aviation CEO; Lonnie
Vaughan, Yingling Aviation president; Ashley Bowen Cook,
Wichita Aero Club board of directors executive committee vice chair
and gala chair; John O’Leary, Airbus Americas Engineering
vice president/general manager and Wichita Aero Club chairman; and
Charlie Chandler, Intrust Bank CEO. Photo: Visual Media
“Lynn Nichols rescued a
floundering enterprise and saved it from imminent closure,” says Franson. “His
exceptional energy, business acumen and proven principles turned things around.
His leadership enabled Yingling to grow and realize new opportunities even
during the economic downturn. He has transformed Yingling into an
industry-leading FBO and a go-to destination for everything from AOG parts to
Lynn Nichols and Jeff
Turner have now both been awarded the Wichita Aero Club trophy.
These longtime friends also frequently work together to spur local
investment that benefits aviation and the Air Capital. Pictured
here: Lynn and Sherry Nichols and Rhonda and Jeff Turner.
Photo: Visual Media Group.
A Friend to the Air Capital and Aviation
Nichols’ long-time commitment to
the community includes service as past chairman of the Wichita Chamber of
Commerce and on the boards of a number of local businesses and nonprofits,
including Doc’s Friends. This now nationally known group restored Doc, a
Wichita-built B-29, to flight condition and found it a permanent home, a
32,000-square-foot hangar and education center now being built. It will be next
to Yingling’s new 23,000-square-foot hangar.
BlueSky Business Aviation News | 25th January | Issue #448