Independent fuel and services provider flies Citation Excel and Bell 407 to maintain market share and expand business.
By Phil Rose
Titan Aviation Fuels is an independent fuel and services provider with some 600 branded dealers across the US and nearly 2000 locations worldwide. Headquartered in New Bern NC and with more than 130 employees throughout North America and Europe, Titan’s customers include FBOs, corporate flight departments, airlines, cargo companies, airports, and the US military.
Chairman Robert “Buddy” Stallings III has flown for most of his life and is a highly experienced pilot. He founded Titan in 1975 as a regional wholesale aviation fuel distributor.
One of his goals was to combine his love of flying with his knowledge of the petroleum industry gained from years of working in a motor fuels distributorship.
In the years that followed, Buddy Stallings developed Titan into an international supplier of fuel and services – primarily through organic sales growth, but also by means of numerous marketing initiatives and strategic acquisitions.
One of the keys to maintaining and expanding Titan Aviation Fuels’ business is the flight department, which operates a Citation Excel and a Bell 407. Both are housed in the company’s hangar facility at EWN (New Bern NC). Nearly all mission destinations are within the contiguous US, with occasional trips to Canada and the Caribbean. The flight department is a small, tightly knit group consisting of 2 pilots in addition to Buddy Stallings, plus a director of maintenance.
Flight department origins
Buddy Stallings recalls, “I started the company in 1975 with the hope of having an airplane to fly. I had no idea that the company would grow as much as it has, but I’ve had some really good people who’ve worked with me and grown the company.
“We started with a Piper Cherokee 235, and then we had a Cessna 210, followed by a Piper Seneca, a Piper Aerostar, and a Beech Baron. Our first turbine aircraft was a Citation I/SP, followed by a King Air 200.
After that we flew a Citation Bravo, then a CJ3 – and, finally, in May 2011, the Excel that we operate now. As we expanded our marketing territory, our missions changed, and we needed more capable aircraft.”
Buddy Stallings was the company’s only pilot until 1985, when Mike Allen was hired as sales manager. A pilot himself, Allen flew a succession of Beech Bonanzas as well as the Baron on sales missions. Today, as executive VP, he flies a company-owned Socata TBM700.
Other regional sales personnel fly a Piper Malibu, a pair of Bonanzas, and a Cirrus SR22. These are based all across the country. Buddy Stallings himself remains an active pilot and shares flying duties on many company missions.
Titan’s involvement in rotary-wing operations started “primarily because we wanted to sell fuel to helicopter operators,” as Buddy Stallings recalls. “I wanted to have an understanding of what helicopter pilots’ needs were with regard to fuel and range.”
He continues, “At first, we had a Robinson R44, and then a Bell 206 JetRanger. Five years ago, we acquired a Bell 407, which became a valuable business tool due to its range and performance.”
Consolidation and expansion
Buddy Stallings’ son, Titan Aviation Fuels President Robbie Stallings, has been with the company for 28 years and is responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations. He notes, “We’re a family business. After graduating college, I came to work with my father, and we’ve been building the business together ever since – with a lot of help from a talented group of people.”
The company’s growth and success can be attributed to 2 factors, says Robbie Stallings. He explains, “This business is about building relationships and providing exceptional customer service. We build relationships one customer at a time through our love of aviation. We take care of our customers first and provide the services and support they need.”
He continues, “Nearly all our customers are at airports. We believe that, to understand their needs and help foster relationships, it’s important to arrive from the ramp side, as opposed to the parking lot. This gives us an immediate connection with our customer.” He adds, “The primary reason that we’re in this business is my father’s love of aviation. And we’re still in this business today because of his passion for aviation.”
Titan has supply agreements with all the major oil companies. “We contract with every refiner in North America,” says Robbie Stallings, “and we have contracts in Europe and other locations. That’s how we satisfy our customers’ fuel requirements.
“We launched our fuel business in Europe recently, and we have an office in Geneva that manages our European business. Our goal is to have a global fuel supply company that will enable us to service our customers no matter where they fly.”
Robbie Stallings flies frequently – on average 2 or 3 times a week – whether to visit suppliers and existing customers, or to seek out potential new business. It’s a heavy schedule, but he emphasizes how much he enjoys the work. “I think this is a great industry made up of great people. I’ve enjoyed being a part of this industry because of the people I’ve gotten to know and the friendships I’ve made over the years. Relationships are still very important in aviation.
“We’re very fortunate to have a team of great people. Most of our team is based in New Bern, and
the rest are out in the field, either in a sales or fuel quality assurance capacity.
“The flight department makes our job a lot easier because it improves our efficiency. It’s a great business tool for us. The Citation Excel is perfect for our typical mission. We’ll often make 4 or 5 airport visits a day, and the Excel handles these short hops very well. We also fly longer legs, such as to the West Coast, and the airplane performs well on those missions too.”
The aviation industry has experienced its share of challenges, and the Covid pandemic hit especially hard. As Robbie Stallings puts it, “Travel was nonexistent, so the bottom fell out of the market with regard to aviation fuel sales.
Many suppliers slowed production to get in line with lower demand, and the price of fuel plummeted.” He goes on, “Fuel prices have rebounded since Covid with the return of demand and as a result of other geopolitical events.
“Initially, the pandemic wasn’t a good thing for travel and aviation, but it’s really strengthened our business in the long run. The pandemic introduced a lot of new people to aviation who had previously flown the airlines but had never been exposed to private aviation.
If someone had told me in the first days of the pandemic that it would actually help our business, I would have laughed. But yes, since Covid our business has grown.”
Continuing the family legacy is important at Titan, and a 3rd generation of Stallings now works in the company. Robbie’s son Miller Stallings and daughter Portie Stallings are sales executives based in Texas.
Miller Stallings is an experienced pilot with both a fixed-wing instrument rating and helicopter rating.
At present, Stallings has around 1000 hrs TT, including rotorcraft time. “I fly every week to visit customers in my sales territory,” he says. “Whether it’s flying the airplane or the helicopter, I’m far more efficient making customer calls – plus, it’s a ton of fun.”
Chief Pilot Eddie Daniels joined Titan in September 2007. An ex-US Marine Corps pilot with 10,500 hrs TT (6000 of them in military aircraft), he was hooked on aviation at an early age. He recalls, “When I was 5 years old I got the bug, and I told my dad I was going to be a fighter pilot. He encouraged me to go ahead and do it, so all through school and college I was geared toward being a fighter pilot.”
Daniels attended Appalachian State University in Boone NC, earning a degree in math and physics before joining the Marine Corps in 1972 and going to flight school at NAS Pensacola FL. There he flew the Rockwell T-2 Buckeye and Douglas A-4 Skyhawk before training on the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II.
“The F-4 was my primary combat airplane,” he recalls. “I did 2 tours of duty on the F-4, then transitioned to the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and was squadron commander of 2 squadrons – VMFA-451 and MALS-31 – at MCAS Beaufort SC and commander of MATSG (Marine Aviation Training Support Group) at Cecil Field FL. And, just prior to retiring, I flew 1000 hrs in a Marine Corps Douglas DC-9.”
Daniels retired from the Marines in September 2001 after 29 1/2 years. Some time later, he had a call from Buddy Stallings, who was looking for a jet pilot. “We agreed to an interview,” says Daniels, “and the rest is history. The company had a Citation Bravo at the time. I got checked out in that, and then we upgraded to an Excel, which we fly now. We had a CJ3 for a short time as well.”
He describes Excel utilization as fairly consistent year on year. “We normally fly the Excel a little over 300 hrs a year,” he says. “Some of our trips are 2 to 3 days, but probably 75% of the time we’re out and back the same day.
We have the training and freedom to do our jobs effectively and safely and to make decisions as needed. We stay on top of maintenance and keep the airplane clean, so that we have it ready on a moment’s notice for whenever staff members need to travel.”
Daniels continues, “Our team consists of 3 pilots – Buddy, Jason Bayliss, and myself. We do all the flying, and we alternate legs. We do our training together, and we’re all familiar with each other’s flying abilities.”
Titan doesn’t have a dedicated scheduler/dispatcher. Instead, Daniels and Bayliss rely heavily on FltPlan.com for all flight planning and scheduling.
The Citation Excel has recently had its Pratt & Whitney PW545 engines overhauled and undergone a repaint and an interior upgrade. Installation of Garmin G5000 avionics with Garmin Connext was completed by Epps Aviation PDK (Dekalb–Peachtree, Atlanta GA) in June 2022, and the Excel boasts Gogo Internet, satcom phone capability, and HF radio.
Daniels has only praise for the Gogo product. “It’s been reliable,” he says, “and it’s very useful in changing flight plans and contacting FBOs concerning arrival requirements. We’ve had no issues so far that require Gogo’s support.”
There are no plans to expand the flight department or get another aircraft. Daniels explains, “We’re probably going to stay with 3 pilots. It fits the current needs of the company well.”
However, Daniels is due to retire next year, and, as he puts it, “It’s just about time to get a younger guy in here. The company is in the process of recruiting my replacement – a pilot with the right personality and, ideally, with the requisite corporate jet experience.”
Overall, says Daniels, “The best thing about working for Titan is the flying, of course – and the people are very enjoyable to work with. The aircraft is first rate, we keep it maintained, and it looks great. And we just enjoy the flying.”
Pilot Jason Bayliss grew up in New Bern and began working for Titan in 1996 while still in high school.
“I had very little aviation experience at the time,” he recalls. “I’d always enjoyed watching airplanes, but I’d never had any interaction with aviation until I was 17, when I met Buddy through a mutual friend and soon after began working for the company.”
He continues, “We have a fleet of 1000 or so fuel trucks that we lease to FBOs around the country. At some point they come back through our New Bern maintenance facility to be refurbished, and I started working on those. Later, I was involved in fuel tank installations, and then I moved up to sales director for aviation refueling equipment.”
Although Bayliss had gained his private pilot license by this time, he “hadn’t really done a whole lot with it.” But he says, “If you work with Titan long enough, you can’t help but want to learn more and more.” After flying Titan’s Bonanzas, the Baron, and a Cessna 182, Bayliss’s next step was to get a commercial helicopter rating.
“For a time, the company had an R44 that we flew quite often. Then we moved from the R44 to a Bell 407.” He adds, “The 407 is a very fast and capable helicopter, and it’s perfect for the company’s shorter missions.” Bayliss flew the 407 for a while before earning his comm-multi-inst rating and going to FSI to get type rated in the Excel.
At present, Bayliss has around 1600 hrs TT, including helo time. “I’ve worked with Titan my entire career,” he says. “It’s a great company to work with. And it really is a family environment.”
He continues, “It’s great to fly with pilots like Buddy and Eddie who have so much experience. Eddie is an amazing aviator, and I’ve learned a lot from him. When we acquired the Excel, he took me under his wing. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for teaching me so much.”
Bayliss flies as both PIC and SIC in the Excel. “When we fly a trip, Eddie will fly one leg left seat, and I’ll fly the next leg left seat – we alternate back and forth. This way, we maintain our proficiency. Eddie has a wealth of knowledge, so every flight’s a learning experience.
“A typical mission is flying the sales team to visit some of our branded FBOs. We’ll usually get a couple of days’ notice, but sometimes it’s spur of the moment. Eddie and I are always ready to go, but our typical mission is in support of our aviation fuel sales.”
Summing up, Bayliss says, “Being a part of this team, I couldn’t be happier. It really is a family environment. Eddie and I get along so well, and I think that’s really important. But then the whole company’s that way. I enjoy every day and look forward to each opportunity to fly.”
Dir of Maintenance Ralph Hill grew up in Rockingham County, near Greensboro NC, and credits his father with encouraging his early interest in aviation. “When I was a kid, I always liked tinkering with airplanes, and after a year of college I went into the Air Force in 1981. I did 8 years of active duty and 17 years in the Air National Guard.”
Hill gained his A&P license in 1989 while in the Air Force, working on Cessna T-37s, McDonnell Douglas F-15s, Boeing KC-135E/Rs, and Lockheed C-130Hs.
During his NC-ANG years, Hill was able to use his A&P license in civilian jobs. “I worked with Piedmont Aviation at INT (Winston Salem NC) and GSO (Greensboro NC), and then I went to Cessna Citation.”
Hill worked at the GSO Citation Service Center for 8 years, and started doing overseas contracting work in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In July 2017, while working on Bombardier DHC-8s for Dynamic Aviation in Souda Bay, Crete, he took a call from Titan, which was looking for an A&P mechanic with Citation Excel experience.
“I’d worked at the Citation Service Center from 2001 to 2008, and I’d been to Excel maintenance schools,” says Hill, “and that’s what they saw on my résumé. I started out part-time with Titan in July 2017.” He obtained his FAA inspection authorization that same year.
Hill is on call 24/7. He carries out all inspections and most maintenance on the Excel, except for avionics and pitot-static checks, and performs minor maintenance on the Bell 407. TechnicAir GSO is responsible for all G5000-related maintenance.
“The Excel is a really good airplane,” says Hill, “and it’s very mechanic-friendly. I can access everything I need to easily without taking a lot of parts off the airplane itself.”
The Excel’s PW545s are covered under Pratt & Whitney’s pay-per-hour Eagle Service Plan. Hill notes, “The only time I call Pratt and Whitney is for major maintenance events, like engine removal and replacement.”
As for the Bell 407, says Hill, “I’ve only had a chance to do minor maintenance. I did a couple of annual inspections with HeliDoc in Burlington NC, but I’m still learning my way around the 407.”
Like every member of the flight department, Hill describes Titan as an excellent employer. He says, “This really is a great company. Pay and conditions are better than the industry average, and the company offers a 401(k) savings plan. Eddie and Jason are great people, and this is a great crew to work with.”
The last word goes to Buddy Stallings. “One thing I would say is that our company could not have been built without our aircraft, particularly when we started the company. We were able to visit a lot more customers because of the aircraft. And now we need them because we cover such a large geographic area. The aircraft are absolutely critical to the mission at Titan.”