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Crafting a Culture of Trust Propels AirQuest Aviation

BUTLER, Pennsylvania – When an airport’s legacy includes installing long-distance fuel tanks on a single-engine aircraft destined to make a record-breaking flight, the bar is set high when it comes to maintenance standards.

But it’s a benchmark the technicians embrace at AirQuest Aviation, the fixed-base operator (FBO) for Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport (KBTP). That’s the airport where Amelia Earhart acquired those long-distance fuel tanks – and received instrument training – for her red Lockheed Vega before becoming the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart’s arduous, 15-hour flight breached the limits of both plane and pilot. 

“A lot of trust is involved in aviation,” says Matt Steele, general manager for AirQuest Aviation. “We focus on doing everything with the utmost integrity to build that customer trust.”

In fact, the AQ in AirQuest stands for “Absolute Quality,” a slogan enshrined on business cards and embedded, Steele says, in the culture of this Phillips 66® branded FBO. 

“Our slogan reminds us to take pride in our work because aviation, especially, is about quality and safety,” explains Steele. “We put a lot of effort into these focal points, and they’re always present in our decision making. We want our customers to have a great experience.”

A Quest for Maintenance

Just 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, AirQuest Aviation is crafting a reputation not only as a stress-free commute option to “Steel City” but also as a preferred aircraft repair station.

The full-service FBO features distinctive services – like stunning scenic flights over a Pittsburgh skyline framed dramatically between the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers merging into the mighty Ohio River. But maintenance is the FBO’s bread and butter.

“Our maintenance work has grown so much. It’s tripled in the past 10 years,” Steele says. “What we’re doing is quite phenomenal. And it’s all private aviation. We restructured and redesigned our maintenance department over the last decade, and it really is nice to see that all come together.”

With factory-trained technicians for King Air, Cirrus, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft and Diamond aircraft, AirQuest Aviation’s 15 mechanics tackle everything from engine installs, sheet metal repairs, major and annual inspections, full interiors and avionics to aircraft recovery, prop balancing and more.

“All the Cirrus owners in the region have gradually seen our quality output,” Steele explains. “We do all the work for the Civil Air Patrol in our area because they’ve come to appreciate our quality maintenance output. A lot of jets fly into our facility because of the quality reputation that we have.”

It speaks volumes about an FBO’s culture when a lifetime of wrench-turning leads to a promotion to general manager. Before managing AirQuest, Steele spent 20 years as a mechanic, the last 11 of those running the FBO’s maintenance department.

“The other day I was telling Nathan Courtney, our maintenance manager, that I haven’t turned a wrench in almost a year,” says Steele. “It’s quite a change.”

Embracing his general manager role with a leadership mindset – one molded during military service and high school as captain for the basketball and soccer teams – Steele is quick to credit others.

“We just have a phenomenal staff,” he says. “From FBO services to the Part 61 flight school, maintenance and charter operation – everyone is top notch. That definitely makes the biggest difference.”

A second AirQuest location 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh serves historic Beaver County – once known for bountiful supplies of limestone and bituminous coal. The AirQuest FBO at Beaver County Airport (KBVI) has built a reputation in the region for maintaining higher-end, single-engine planes made by Diamond Aircraft.

Experiences = Appreciation 

Scenic flights are something AirQuest started a few years ago. “No one else was doing it in the area, so we thought, ‘Why not?’” explains Steele. “The more people understand aviation, and the more people experience aviation, the more they can appreciate it.”

AirQuest has donated scenic flights to get military veterans, people with special needs, and even some nursing home residents airborne. “We’ve taken elderly people that used to be pilots,” Steele explains. “It’s an activity they didn’t think was available to them.”

Ultimately, says Steele, they want the community to enjoy aviation. That same philosophy fuels the FBO’s flight school. “We have a really personal approach to flight training,” Steele says. “We pride ourselves on having good quality airplanes to train out of. We’re more about the aviation experience than just the end goal.”

Recently, AirQuest switched fuel suppliers to join the Phillips 66 Aviation network. “The reps are local. You’re not calling someone a state away to help with a problem,” explains Steele. “The added community element really helps, along with confidence in the product and supply chain.”

In the end, Steele says, it’s all about creating a culture that embraces integrity. 

“It’s hard to advertise in aviation,” Steele concludes. “Word of mouth may be the best marketing for an FBO. And that all goes back to building that trust element with customers.”