KCI Aviation has come a long way since its inception as AeroMech in 1951, when Angelo Koukoulis was invited by what is now known as the Harrison County Commission to be director of the Benedum Airport.
“That was kind of the precursor to our family involvement,” said his son, Charles Koukoulis, now president of KCI Aviation. “He started KCI Enterprises in 1976 to do some spin-off opportunity projects that were coming along.”
As a pioneer in aviation in North Central West Virginia, Angelo Koukoulis created West Virginia’s first home-based airline, AeroMech, in 1980.
“My dad’s company, AeroMech, was very instrumental in the development of this airport over the years,” Charles Koukoulis said.
The company rebranded itself as KCI Aviation in 1985 with a fixed-based operation including a flight school, air charter, aircraft maintenance, fuel sales and line service, Charles Koukoulis said.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes, and we’ve had some influence on some development that’s taken place here over the years,” he said.
Since then, the company has evolved once again — to dealing primarily with aircraft maintenance and repair.
“Our target focus is the corporate business jets and engines,” Koukoulis said. “We do a lot with Pratt & Whitney here locally, and we work with a lot of the large fleet operations around the region.”
Pratt & Whitney and KCI Aviation have been partners over the years as part of the Benedum Aerospace and Industrial Park.
“We sort of specialize in that because of our proximity to them,” Koukoulis said. “We’re one of three centers of excellence in the world that work with Pratt on their rental engines that they have. When it comes off that rental application, we get that engine and we go through it to make sure it’s all correct.”
Koukoulis said KCI Aviation typically does over 300 of those jobs each year.
“We get airplanes that come inhouse for unscheduled work or scheduled work. We’re doing some engine change work right now and some other associated work on the airplanes,” Koukoulis said.
The company also has a mobile repair team that repurposed an old ambulance for travel purposes, he added.
Growing up in KCI Aviation, Koukoulis said the company is like his home, and by opting to take the pilot path, he became involved in all aspects but testing.
“It’s big steps to follow, obviously,” he said. “More importantly, the lessons I learned from the business gave me the insight to the business that has come over that experience in time. We’ve survived here 65 years, so that’s a feat in itself in these times.”
Having the ability to adapt is what has helped KCI continue for 65 years, Koukoulis believes.
“The industry and times change,” he said. “Taking that concept and applying it to a different sector of the industry has always kind of been a focus of mine, and it’s worked out. We have a few things on the brew right now that are continuing to develop on that front.”
Steve Sellas, vice president of KCI Aviation and Koukoulis’ brother-in-law, has been with the company since 1979.
“Being a part of the family and being a part of the history of aviation in this area has been tremendous,” Sellas said. “Chuck and my father-in-law Angelo have been great to me, and it’s been really rewarding.”
With nearly 40 years in the industry himself, Sellas has seen firsthand the importance of being able to adapt.
“The biggest change is from being in general aviation, working on little airplanes, to working on corporate aircraft,” he said. “That’s been tremendous for our company. We’ve grown and have a bright future for us.”
In an industry that’s always changing, Sellas looks forward to continued growth for KCI Aviation, with the goal of growing bigger and better.
“We do things the right way, and we want to do it even better,” he said.
“The neat thing about this business is it’s always on the cutting edge of technology,” he said. “Changes are always in motion, and you can always count on change and new things being introduced. That keeps it fun because it’s not stagnant.”
Despite changes in its niche, KCI Aviation has always been dedicated to not only the airport, but the community and the state, Koukoulis said.
“There’s a lot of very rich history in West Virginia with aviation,” he said. “We carry the torch and keep that fire burning. It’s really fun to see the development over the many years of how the airport’s evolved from literally a potato patch.”
Koukoulis said that if he lives to be 98, he’ll see the 100th anniversary of the company, and he looks forward to seeing what changes may lie ahead — up to and including space.
“That’s going to be sooner than we think with the way technology is jumping in quantum leaps, and some of the entrepreneurs out there are pushing those envelopes,” he said. “That opens a whole new dimension to what the future holds as far as the support industry for those kind of things.”
Koukoulis also plans for more use of corporate and cargo aircraft.
“It’s the things behind the scenes where you look for a little niche to play in,” he said. “We’re always looking, and I’m always thinking of new things to do and new approaches.”
But more than the growth of his own company, Koukoulis hopes to see growth and expansion in the industry overall.
“I hope to encourage people to look at aviation and aerospace as a career because it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s an industry that’s forever moving into the future, so it’s always challenging and has new opportunities for folks who are willing to look for them and pursue them.”