FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
Schweitzer, with 2 Citation Xs and a Bravo, prepares to add new Sovereign
Mix of Citations proves essential to SEL in selling power protection and digital technology worldwide.
By Grant McLaren
Amid the rolling green hills of southeastern Washington state SEL operates a full-service corporate flight dept that's adding aircraft and personnel. One of 2 SEL Citation Xs is shown at PUW (Pullman WA) with pilots, mechanics, schedulers, management and an SEL digital relay product.
Even in today's market-with flight departments shutting or hunkering down, fear of publicity rampant among many bizav operators and prospects of draconian DHS restrictions there are still shining examples of corporate aviation effectiveness.
PUW (Pullman WA)-based Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) is adding corporate aircraft, hiring pilots and mechanics and is proud of its business aviation productivity benefits.
SEL, world leader in the power protection industry with digital relay technology it pioneered in the early 1980s, operates from relatively remote PUW with 2 Cessna Citation Xs and a Citation Bravo, 7 pilots, 3 mechanics and 3 schedulers.
A new base will soon be inaugurated at either CLT (Intl, Charlotte NC) or UZA (Rock Hill SC) with a Citation Sovereign, 2 new pilots and a new mechanic. Meanwhile, management, pilot and maintenance talent are busy evaluating replacement possibilities for 2 Citation Columbuses that had been on order when Cessna suspended the program recently.
SEL corporate employment is growing better than 10% a year, the company has no debt, no employee layoffs have occurred over the past 25 years and no customer has ever been charged to have SEL equipment repaired.
"The value of corporate aircraft is immense in terms of growth, productivity and maintaining corporate culture," says SEL Founder & CEO Ed Schweitzer, who revolutionized the industry by reducing cost and complexity of power protection technology with a digital relay he created as a PhD project while at Washington State University.
"We've been able to set up and operate remote offices very effectively without having to relocate personnel, we can move back and forth at will and we can provide a high level of customer support," he says.
Citation X on approach to PUW.
"Corporate aircraft allow us to base our company here while still being effectively connected to our market. We anticipate our new east-coast-based Sovereign will soon open up all kinds of new doors for us."
For Aviation Mgr Mark Wray, who joined SEL as one of 2 pilots in 1999, flight department growth has closely tracked SEL's. When the first company aircraft, a Citation Bravo, was acquired in 1999, SEL had about 400 employees.
Today with over 1940 employees worldwide, and product in 126 countries, the flight department has met the challenge of supporting travel requirements with 4 aircraft.
"We're a company that prefers to evolve steadily and conservatively and our flight department has grown consistently over the 10 years I've been here," says Wray. "The future is bright, we'll hire an additional pilot and mechanic this year and we're evaluating longer range aircraft to serve growing international markets."
When SEL advertised 2 new pilot positions for its new east coast operation earlier this year the response was overwhelming with more than 400 applicants. The 2 selected new-hires-Captains Gabe Langenderfer and Mike Parrott-are both ex-Wachovia Bank pilots who lost their jobs when the flight department closed.
(Top to bottom) SEL's manufacturing facility in Pullman WA produces power protection products. New SEL digital relay ready for shipment. A selection of digital products produced by SEL.
"It was a rigorous process with multiple interviews over a 1-month period," recalls Parrott, an 8600-hour TT captain. "I'm thrilled to work for SEL and to have a chance to fly the Sovereign," he says.
"This is a dynamic company that's really on the cusp and it will make a difference to how this country goes forward. It's more than just moving people around-we'll play a pivotal part in the economic future of our country."
President Obama has asked Congress to move without delay on passing legislation to build a new Smart Grid to deliver electricity from suppliers to consumers using digital technology to save energy, reduce cost and improve reliability.
"This is exactly what we build and what we've been doing for years," says Wray of SEL's digital relay technology which enjoys a majority share of the domestic market.
Building a business
SEL delivered its first digital relays in 1984 and, by 1985, built its first building and employed 11 people. Due to lack of commercial air service to PUW Ed Schweitzer and his team would drive the 75 miles to GEG (Intl, Spokane WA) and often overnight in local hotels in order to catch first flights out.
SEL began chartering aircraft in 1987 and purchased its first corporate aircraft-the Bravo-in 1999. In 2002 a Citation X was added and in 2006 a second Citation X was delivered. Two years ago SEL ordered a pair of Citation Columbuses for delivery in 2014 and 2015.
An initial crew of 2 pilots-with no inhouse mechanics or dispatchers-managed early Bravo schedules of up to 540 hrs annually with ops as far afield as one 42-flight-hour mission to Brazil.
A 3rd pilot/mechanic came aboard in 2001 followed by the first full-time company mechanic in 2007. While SEL has grown to a 130-acre headquarters, with 10 buildings on site plus 42 domestic offices, 31 international locations and a large manufacturing facility at SLP (San Luis Potosí, Mexico), commercial transport options at PUW remain minimal.
The only carrier servicing PUW is Horizon Airlines with 3 daily flights to SEA (Seattle- Tacoma WA). The plus side is that SEL enjoys a quiet and uncongested 6730-ft runway with plenty of room for its 2 existing corporate hangars and a 3rd hangar in the planning.