Family-owned stone and aggregates producer uses Phenom 300E to strengthen presence in southeastern US.
By Phil Rose
Among his founding principles was the belief that “if you do right by your people, they will do right by you” – a philosophy that has been maintained through successive generations.
This modest beginning was followed by steady expansion. Today, Luck Companies is the largest family-owned producer of crushed stone, sand, and gravel in the US. In recent years, the company has expanded beyond its sites across Virginia into Maryland, North Carolina, and Georgia.
In June 2018, Luck Companies acquired Willow Oak Quarry in Kershaw SC. Four months later, in what was then the largest acquisition in the company’s history, Luck Companies concluded the purchase of Atlanta GA-based Stephens Industries – now rebranded as the Luck Stone Atlanta Stephens Plant.
As of April 2021, Luck Companies employs more than 850 people at its 28 quarries and associated sites.
Under the leadership of President & CEO Charlie Luck IV, grandson of the founder, Luck Companies is organized into 3 business entities – Luck Stone, Luck Ecosystems, and Luck Real Estate Ventures.
Luck Stone specializes in the production of crushed stone, sand, and gravel. Luck Ecosystems converts raw materials into environmental performance products for filtering stormwater, supporting plant growth, and optimizing sports playing field surfaces.
And Luck Real Estate Ventures (LREV) specializes in industrial and commercial development, and works closely with Luck Stone to manage the company’s land assets.
Flight department origins
As Luck Companies nears its centenary, it’s worth noting that for the past 50 years – half the company’s existence – aviation has played a key role in its success.
It was Charles Luck III – the founder’s son, and father of the current CEO – who saw the value of being able to reach customers quickly and conduct business on-site.
In 1969, he took flying lessons and earned his pilot’s license in a Mooney Ranger, which he bought the following year, using it to visit clients and attend meetings.
By 1972 it was clear that hiring a full-time pilot would reduce Charles’s workload and allow him to focus entirely on company business.
With this goal in mind, he approached his former flight instructor, Jay Coffman, and offered him the position of chief pilot. Coffman accepted, and with that Luck Stone’s flight department was born.
At this time, Luck Stone was flying from a private strip adjacent to its Rockville VA quarry, later named Coffman Field. The Mooney was considered too small for the company’s needs, and a Beech Baron took its place. This was later replaced by a Cessna 421, which was replaced in its turn by another 421.
During all of this time, Luck Stone’s business was growing, and aircraft utilization was increasing.
In 1985, Luck Stone made the transition from piston to turbine power with the acquisition of a used King Air E90, and the runway at Coffman Field was lengthened to 3900 ft.
In 1997, the E90 was traded against a new King Air C90B, which served the company’s needs for the next decade.
Luck Stone was continuing to grow, with new acquisitions in North Carolina and Tennessee, and the flight department was being kept increasingly busy.
By 2006, all 5 passenger seats on the King Air were usually filled, and, since a growing number of company associates were needing to travel, the decision was taken to move up to a larger aircraft.
In early 2007, the company bought a Raytheon King Air 350, increasing pax capacity to 9. Seven years later, with the King Air 350 out of warranty, it was decided to make the transition to jet equipment.
Operating costs for the Embraer Phenom 300 were found to be comparable to those for the King Air 350, and the jet’s advantages were clear. In 2014, Luck Stone was able to obtain a pre-owned 2010-model Phenom 300, s/n 0029.
It operated this aircraft until early 2019, when it sold it on and purchased its current flagship – a new Phenom 300E, s/n 0500.
With the acquisition of jet equipment, the limitations of Coffman Field quickly became evident, and Luck Stone’s flight department moved its base of operations to OFP (Hanover County, Ashland VA).
At first, the company rented hangar space from HOVA (the FBO), but it now has its own dedicated facility – a 10,000 sq ft hangar with offices, passenger lobby, and kitchen area, all designed to reflect the company’s brand. Official move-in date was May 1, 2020.
Jay Coffman continued as Luck Stone’s chief pilot for a decade before moving over to company operations in the mid-80s and handing the flight department reins to Larry Blackmon.
Coffman retired from Luck Stone in 2009 as VP of human resources (HR). Blackmon served as chief pilot for 20 years before retiring in 2005 and passing the baton to Scott Moore.
Today, Luck Companies Aviation Dept consists of 2 full-time pilots, a pilot/maintenance manager, a maintenance technician, and a scheduler. Heading up the team is Aviation Dept Manager Ryan Blanchard, a 7100-hr-TT pilot who joined the company in 2005 as first officer.
He reports to Chief Talent Officer Mark Barth – a structural carry-over from the time when Coffman was also head of HR. “It was Scott Moore who hired me,” he recalls.
“I was flight instructing at OFP, and a couple of other instructors and myself would try to pick up right-seat legs with Scott when he had trips.
My dad was in corporate aviation, so I always wanted to go the same route.” He continues, “When I joined we had a King Air 90.
By 2007, we were flying more, so we upgraded to a 350 model. Several years later, as we started to look for acquisition opportunities in the southeast, we were able to get into a used Phenom 300, which could cover the territory faster than the King Air.”
“However,” he notes, “with the Phenom we couldn’t land at Coffman Field when it was wet – the runway was too small.
The numbers worked when it was dry, but there was no margin for error. And we couldn’t fly at night.” Company growth meant increased flying hours on the Phenom. “We needed a full-time airport to support full-time use of the aircraft,” says Blanchard, “so we moved to OFP. Coffman Field is now closed permanently.”
The aviation department has played an essential role in integrating recent acquisitions, notes Blanchard. “As we grow, we continue to prioritize getting out into the field and interacting safely with associates and customers.
Flying the Phenom 300 and operating out of a new, state-of-the-art hangar is a big part of delivering on our mission to ignite human potential and create positive impact.”
Blanchard continues, “For us, the Phenom 300 is the perfect plane. We burn about the same amount of Jet A as we did in the King Air 350.
On low, short legs it’s a very economical airplane. And for our mission profile there’s no reason to go bigger.” The Phenom 300E comes with enhancements that include the Garmin G3000-based Prodigy Touch flight deck and a fully redesigned 9-seat cabin.
Blanchard is enthusiastic about both. “It’s a really nice cabin experience,” he says, “and the G3000 is an improvement over the Phenom 300’s G1000.
We were all typed in the 300, so when we went to CAE Dallas the next year we just did our recurrent plus a 1-day differences training.” Luck Companies’ Phenom 300E is covered by Embraer’s 3-year full warranty until the end of this year, and for parts until the end of 2023.
The PW535E1 engines are on Pratt & Whitney Canada’s Gold warranty program. Naturally, Covid has affected company flying. “In 2017, ’18, and ’19 we averaged around 500 hrs a year,” says Blanchard. “We were at just over 200 hrs on Mar 14 when we shut down.
We still ended up last year with 397 hrs – and that was with not flying for almost 6 weeks.” The company offers medical, dental, vision, and short-term/long-term disability insurance.
Benefits include a 5% 401K match and a pension. “The team enjoys a good work/life balance,” says Blanchard. “We have a standard 14-hr duty day with 10 hrs off.
If we fly 5 days in a row, the time off goes to 12 or 14 hrs. If we fly 7 days in a row, then we have 24 hrs off.” The role of PIC rotates monthly between the 3 captains.
“We have a part-time pilot – Bryan Smith – to fill in for us when needed,” says Blanchard, “but we stick to the rules for everyone’s sake.”
He adds, “We never get any pushback if we say we’re not going because of safety. Scott, my old boss, used to say, ‘Our job is to say no when we have to.’ That’s just what you do to operate safely and get everybody home.
The owner understands that if you can’t do it, you can’t do it.” He concludes, “I’ve got a great team here. From Charlie on down, everyone in the company appreciates having the plane and being able to use it for business operations.
We try to give a first-class experience to everyone who comes on it.” Captain & Safety Officer Andrew Gray is an 8800-hr pilot who joined the Luck Companies team in late 2018 after working for local Part 91/135 operator Dominion Aviation. His background includes 3 1/2 years of flight instructing as well as flying for CitationShares.
Since coming on board, Gray has helped develop the flight department ops manual. “I started flight training after high school,” recounts Gray. “I got my certificates and worked my way up from there.” He continues, “The Phenom 300 is a good aircraft, and very capable for the missions that we do.
One-hour, hour-and-a-half legs, are typical for us. We fly frequently to ATL (Hartsfield Atlanta GA), and we often go up north to JYO (Leesburg VA).”
One of the most important factors that flight departments look for when hiring, in addition to the necessary piloting skills, is the ability to get along and be part of a team. Gray says, “I absolutely love working for Luck Stone. It’s an outstanding company to work for. Everybody is easy to get along with and willing to help each other.”
Maintenance and scheduling
Recruited by Luck Stone in 2013 to set up its inhouse maintenance department, Captain & Aviation Maintenance Manager Mark Weaver has 13,200 hrs TT and 21 years’ experience as a flight engineer.
He recalls, “I started flying when I was in high school, soloed and got my license when I was 17. Then I went to Embry-Riddle and joined the aviation maintenance technician program.”
Weaver’s first job was with Airborne Express, followed by a succession of domestic and overseas airlines. “And then I started flying a Pilatus PC-12 locally out of OFP for Air Richmond, a Part 91 operator,” he says.
“Luck Stone took me on to create an inhouse maintenance program, and then, not even a year into it, I started to fly with them as well. I’ve been wearing 2 hats ever since.
“On the maintenance side, Stuart Reynolds is our full-time tech. He generally works at least 40 hrs. He’ll get there before the flightcrew to prep the plane, and he’ll generally be there when we get back, even if it’s late – so he puts in some long days.” Weaver notes, “We do a good amount of troubleshooting on malfunctions.
If it’s a really large item, particularly since the airplane’s under warranty, we’ll take it to the service center. If it’s a smaller item, we’ll just get parts under warranty and do it ourselves. That saves costs on down time and having the airplane at a service center. “I like the Phenom 300.
Product support has been spotty as far as parts supply is concerned, but it’s gotten a lot better in the 6 years that we’ve operated the airplanes.
And Embraer’s call center in Brazil is very good at troubleshooting and helping you out.” Weaver adds, “I love this company. It wouldn’t matter to me what kind of airplane we had or what my duties were.
For me, it’s all about the quality of the company. It’s top-notch.” Aviation Maintenance Technician Stuart Reynolds has been with Luck since July 2016. Prior to that, he was an AMT at Richmond Jet Center RIC (Intl, Richmond VA). An A&P/IA technician, he reports directly to Mark Weaver.
Reynolds enjoys working on the Phenom 300E. “The airplane’s been very reliable,” he says. “We’re right around 800 hrs now, and we’ve managed to keep the airplane in service and not have it down for any more than 2 days.”
Weaver and Reynolds carry out most AOG fixes. “We go to a service center for the 600- and 1200-hr services,” says Reynolds, “but we do probably 90% of the maintenance and repairs in the interim between the services.
We don’t generally contact the tech rep unless there’s some issue we can’t handle.” He continues, “Mark is an extremely valuable asset to the company. He has a ton of experience, and troubleshooting is very rarely a problem.” In conclusion, Reynolds says, “The culture at this company is very special.
It’s a family-owned company, and it still has very much that atmosphere. We’ve got the best people there are, and they’re happy with their jobs. This is one of the best flight departments there is.” Aircraft Scheduler Kelly Fleshood serves as the liaison for Luck Companies Aviation Department.
She joined the company in March 2016 and works out of corporate headquarters in Manakin-Sabot VA. Fleshood handles all communication relating to aircraft availability and scheduling, including trip requests from departmental associates and from Executive Coordinator Lauren Hutchinson.
Fleshood maintains the flight calendar and uses FltLogic and FltPlan – which she describes as “very user friendly” – before sending out a tentative itinerary.
As well as scheduling flights, Fleshood coordinates trip details with the pilots, arranges ground transportation, and reserves rental cars as needed.
She also schedules flights for Luck Companies associates and the Luck family. “In addition to his full-time role leading the company, Charlie Luck is a former NASCAR driver and races throughout the year,” she explains, “so a lot of my time is spent coordinating with his team on his schedule and arranging travel for the family.”
Fleshood has nothing but praise for her employer. “As a company, people are a core part of our business,” she says. “Charlie is invested in us and vice versa. The plane is an incredible resource for teams across the company, and this is exactly where I want to be.”
Chief Talent Officer Mark Barth has worked for Luck Companies for 24 years, spending about half of his career in the business side of the company and the other half in HR.
“The care and development of our associates is at the core of our culture,” he says, “and we’re intensely committed to our associates’ safety.
The flight department has incredibly high standards and expectations, which have allowed them to remain fully committed to their mission and flying, even during the Covid pandemic.” The last word belongs to Luck Companies President & CEO Charlie Luck IV.
“The flight department, with its talented team of aviation professionals, has proved to be a valuable resource in helping us stay connected with our associates and our customers, as well as supporting our company’s growth over 5 states throughout the southeast.”