Fast Five: Andrew Nichols, Yingling Aviation president

Yingling Aviation, based at Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita, originally began business in 1946 as the first Cessna Aircraft dealer. This year, it is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Andrew Nichols was promoted from chief financial officer to president in 2019, succeeding his dad, Lynn Nichols, who bought the business in 2000. 

Yingling Aviation is celebrating its 75th anniversary with an expansion. What is the key to longevity?

On June 2, you closed a deal to purchase three additional hangars adjacent to the east runway close to the rest of the facility. What does the addition bring?

 We added an additional 50,000 sq. ft. of facilities, bringing our total facilities based here to 250,000 sq. ft. of hangar and office space. The first piece of it will support our MRO operations. It allows us to continue our vision and strategy to grow into the Citation and King Air models, but we needed space to do this. There has been strong demand in our operations side and having the space to support this demand is key. The role where I see this expansion and acquisition is in … three areas: maintenance, avionics and interior. 

The other half of the facilities that we acquired is dedicated to our FBO side. It is also roughly about 25,000 square feet. There are multiple tenants that will keep their aircraft with us and with it, we’ll be providing office space to the pilots and the support staff. In 2018 and 2019, we built a brand new what we consider our Bay 9. We built that from the ground up and we built it because we saw an opportunity to get into the Citation and King Air business ... It has been successful and our teams have worked hard. 

What effect did the pandemic have on the company? 

Like many companies, we experienced a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions. We had a couple of departments that really were impacted by COVID. The first one was the FBO side. With the country being shut down, … the demand for general aviation traffic to travel, whether it’s business or for personal reasons, we saw a big drop-off on the FBO side. Fuel numbers certainly were impacted for the first three months when we got … into COVID. On the parts side–we distribute parts throughout the world–that was another department that felt the effects of COVID. Planes were not flying as much; planes were not going in for the normal inspections; planes were not breaking down, so the demand for parts certainly was impacted.  I feel very fortunate that our MRO side of the business, the maintenance, the avionics, the interior, paint and propeller–those departments stayed busy. What do we attribute that to? What we found was, a lot of the customers said, ‘If I don’t have to travel to, why don’t we go ahead and take care of the maintenance items that would normally come due. Let’s do that interior refresh or do that avionics total package solution that we’ve always wanted. Or they wanted the complete full strip and paint.’ We maintained a pretty steady backlog of customers. I feel fortunate to be able to say that, but we managed it the best we could. 

How has it changed now that the country is pretty well open again?

Our fuel sales are about, if not back to, pre-COVID levels. We’re excited about that. The parts side is as well–almost back to pre-COVID levels as well. We still have international business. But there’s still some certain dynamics in those different communities that hamstring some things. Once the international community is back up, I expect our parts department to be back where they were at pre-COVID levels if not further ahead.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Coming out of COVID, we had our highest employee level the company has experienced. Like many industries, we need more employees. They are hard to come by. One of our biggest challenges that we’re faced with right now is finding the knowledgeable, experienced, trained A&Ps, avionics, technicians or installers. I’m sure it’s industry-wide as well. By calendar year’s end, I would like to be around 165 to 170 employees (up from about 145 today). We are hiring.

Molly McMillin

Molly McMillin, a 25-year aviation journalist, is managing editor of business aviation for the Aviation Week Network and editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, an Aviation Week market intelligence report.