FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE

Hammons climbs to success with Bombardier Learjet 45

Company team uses jet to find hotel and resort sites.

By Mike Potts
Contributing Writer


(L–R) Dir of Flight Ops Larry Glaser, CEO John Q Hammons, Chief Pilot Paul Stachniak and Line Pilot Bob Lavenburg.

In Springfield MO the image of John Q Hammons looms large. His statue is displayed prominently in the midst of downtown. The arena at Missouri State University carries his name. So does the Heart Wing of St John’s Regional Health Center and the Life Line helicopter that serves the Health Center.

So do more than a score of other structures and philanthropic programs throughout the area. In fact, comedian Bob Hope is once said to have quipped, “It won’t be long before this town is known as Hammon­sville MO.”

What caused the Hammons name to become so well known is hotel development. While the Hammons name may not be quite as widely recognized as others in the hotel industry, such as Conrad Hilton, Kemmons Wilson or Charlie Marriott, he has built more quality hotels in the past 50 years than anyone else.

Quality hotels Hammons was already a successful real estate investor and developer in the early 1950s when he concluded there was a growing need for quality hotels throughout the US. Partnering with another investor, Hammons started in the hotel industry by purchasing 10 Holiday Inn hotel franchises, and building his first in Cincinnati OH.

Today, 52 years and more than 208 hotel developments later, Hammons has become a legend in the industry. As his initial Holiday Inns became successful, Hammons moved into more upscale properties, expanding his portfolio to include Embassy Suites, Marriott, Sheraton and Radisson Hotels, as well as several independently branded hotels and 2 first-class resorts.

At age 91, Hammons still operates John Q Hammons Hotels and Resorts from its headquarters in Springfield, where he settled in 1946. The company has properties in 40 states and employs more than 13,000 people. For the past 20 years Hammons has come to depend on business aviation for his executive transportation requirements.

“We’ve been in the jet business for 10 years,” Hammons says. “We couldn’t do without it. We’re spread all over the US—principally in the south and Midwest, but also on the east and west coasts. When we need to travel, we just get in the jet and go.”

Using business aviation

Hammons’ move into business aviation was somewhat evolutionary. In the early years of building his business he relied primarily on the airlines, but then a company he worked closely with acquired a Mitsubishi Diamond 1A. It wasn’t long before Hammons began riding with their company principals on the Diamond.

The next step was for Hammons to become a partner in an aircraft. At that time, the Dia­mond was replaced with a used Beechjet 400A. It became evident, however, that many of the department’s trips needed more range, so in 2004 the department began searching for a new aircraft.

The choice came down to a Cessna Citation Excel or a Bombardier Learjet 45, and the selection went to the Learjet. After 3 years, Ham­mons decided it was time for a new aircraft, so the 2004 Learjet 45 was replaced with a 2007 model.

(Top L–R) John Q Hammons Baseball Stadium in Springfield MO and 3 Hammons hotel properties—Embassy Suites Monterrey CA, World Golf Renaissance Resort in St Augustine FL and Holiday Inn Northwest Arkansas in Springdale AR. (Main photo) The Chateau on the Lake resort, spa and convention center, one of John Q Hammons’ premier properties, overlooks Table Rock Lake in Branson MO.

Shortly afterwards, Hammons acquired full interest in the Learjet 45. Based at SGF (Springfield–Branson MO), the Hammons flight department has 3 employees—Dir of Flight Ops Larry Glaser, Chief Pilot Paul Stachniak and Line Pilot Bob Lavenburg. Each has more than 10,000 flight hours and extensive time in type. Glaser also serves as director of maintenance. Stachniak joined the department in 1997.

A Chicago native, he had spent 2 years working the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange before deciding he’d rather be flying airplanes. He enrolled at Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa OK, emerging with all the necessary tickets to land an airline job.

Soon he was flying British Aerospace Jetstream 31s for the newly merged Westair/Northern Pacific Airlines on the west coast. It was the late 1980s and the regional airline industry offered lots of opportunities. Before long Stachniak found himself on the opposite coast, flying Embraer EMB120 Brasilias with Atlantic Coast Airlines.

Within 6 months he was holding a captain’s slot on a Jetstream 41. Economic fortunes began to turn in the early 1990s and Stachniak’s hopes of joining a major carrier started to wane as opportunities in the industry dried up. In early 1997 an associate told him there was a jet job open in Springfield MO that might suit him.

It turned out to be a construction company flying a Diamond 1A. For the first 2 years Stachniak flew for Hammons, the company used contract pilots to fill the right seat. Next to join the department was Lavenburg.

A native of Kansas City, Bob Lavenburg grew up in a house on the final approach to MKC (Downtown, Kansas City MO)—at that time the primary commercial airport serving the metro area. Watching airliners sparked the boy’s interest in aviation and as soon as he finished high school he started learning to fly.

By 1979 Lavenburg had his CFI and began instructing at Executive Beechcraft MKC. In 1982 he began flying charter for Executive Beech. After flying Model 36 Bonanzas and 58 Barons—VFR-only—he graduated into a King Air F90. This led to his first corporate job—a bank consulting firm bought a new King Air C90 from Executive Beech and needed a pilot.

They chose Lavenburg. “It was the perfect job,” he recalls. “I was 25 years old and all I wanted to do was fly. Over the next 3 years I accumulated 1900 hours flying consultants to visit small agricultural banks in Kansas, Missouri and Okla­homa. If a place had a 3000-ft paved runway, we’d go there.”

Lavenburg’s perfect job lasted until the banking industry fell on hard times, but by then his experience was sufficient for him to find a King Air 300 job with a construction company. In 1989 Lavenburg went back to Executive Beechcraft to fly charter again. Executive Beech promoted him into jets, and for the next decade Lavenburg flew the new Beechjet.

By 1999 he learned of a construction company in Springfield that was operating a Mitsubishi Diamond and looking for a pilot with a lot of Beechjet time. Not long after joining Hammons, Lavenburg played a major role in the deal to trade the Diamond for the new Beechjet 400A at Executive Beechcraft.

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