Kent McIntyre bought an airplane for his company.
And while the 1969 Cessna 172 is used for Bevan-Rabell’s business, it also serves as a means for McIntyre to do his part in growing the ranks of general aviation pilots, which the nation’s largest pilot group has identified as one of its priorities.
The 20-employee company, located on the east side of Wichita Eisenhower National Airport, does avionics repair and installation, and aircraft maintenance.
McIntyre, a pilot since 1977, took delivery of the airplane last March. Bevan-Rabell uses the airplane to service customers in Hutchinson and Enid, Okla.
But it also is available for its employees to use. If the single, piston-engine airplane isn’t scheduled for business use, employees can use it rent-free. All they have to do is pay for the gas.
“I think it’s important that people who work on airplanes understand how they work,” McIntyre said. “And I also think it’s important that people who work on them, fly them.
“We felt like it was a good incentive to get new pilots.”
Airplane rentals in the Wichita area for a single-engine airplane vary between $75 and $220 an hour.
It’s that employee perk that has led one employee to earn his private pilot’s license. Another Bevan employee is working on her’s and a third employee plans to start work on his license soon, too, McIntyre said.
Those newcomers are in addition to four other licensed pilots at Bevan, including one who had let his license lapse but renewed it after the company bought the plane.
“I had no place to get current without spending a lot of money,” said Chuck Smitley, an avionics installer, who estimated his license had lapsed for eight years before he renewed it. “The company having (an airplane) made it a lot cheaper.”
There are fewer active, licensed pilots in the U.S. than there were five and 10 years ago, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Airmen Statistics reports. The most recent data said there were 593,499 active, licensed pilots in 2014. That’s down 5.4 percent from 2010, and 2.7 percent lower than in 2005.
According to the FAA data, the peak year was in 1980, when there were 827,071 active, licensed pilots in the country.
Bevan-Rabell’s initiative “is consistent with AOPA’s goals of growing the community of pilots and making aviation more accessible,” said Joe Kildea, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
“Besides being a great perk, when employers help budding aviators or rusty pilots, they can see bottom-line benefits that come with having pilots on staff as well as a more confident and knowledgeable workforce,” Kildea added.
Scott Merchant was Bevan-Rabell’s first new pilot. An avionics technician who has worked in the industry for 20 years, Merchant started working on his pilot’s license the same month the company took delivery of the 172. He earned his license in August.
“It’s a very good benefit of the company to offer it to us,” said Merchant, who estimates he now has 80 hours of flight time in his logbook. “It’s good for morale. It’s good for training.”
Merchant said regardless of whether McIntyre purchased the airplane, he would have pursued flight training at some point. The costs would have been higher, though, and it would have taken him longer to become a private pilot.
“It would have taken more things financially to make it happen,” he said.
Sarah Johnson, Bevan-Rabell’s director of marketing, is more than 20 hours into her flight training. She said she grew up with grandparents who got her interested in flying.
A nine-year Bevan employee, Johnson won a $3,000 scholarship from the Aircraft Electronics Association to help pay for her flight training. She said between the scholarship and access to a rent-free airplane, it has made her goal of getting a pilot’s license financially achievable.
“I wouldn’t have it if I didn’t work here,” she said. “Truly, I would not fly. … I think we’re pretty fortunate to have this.”
McIntyre said he hopes more Bevan employees follow Merchant and Johnson to the left seat. At the very least, he thinks they understand the value the airplane brings to the company.
For instance, when employees like Merchant need to make a run to Enid, the airplane saves the company more than two hours of staff time: about four hours of driving roundtrip compared with an hour to one hour and 20 minutes flying.
“Even the people that don’t fly as much as I wish they would help support the airplane in some way,” McIntyre said. “They don’t always see a benefit to themselves, but when we go for a part or use the airplane to service a customer off site, it becomes more apparent.”