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Stebbins Aviation marking 30 years at airport

By Ken Hedler
Nov. 11, 2017 at 10 p.m.

Stebbins Aviation Thursday, November 2, 2017. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

In the 30 years since they launched Stebbins Aviation, Dick and Sue Stebbins have seen the company take off, evolve and survive the boom-and-bust oil economy.

Dick Stebbins, an Air Force pilot during the Korean War, and his wife started the company in 1987 to fly employees to nursing homes the couple owned throughout Texas, according to Joel Tutt, who handles marketing for the company.

Over the years, it has evolved into a company that provides a full range of aviation services: It leases space in three hangars at East Texas Regional Airport, provides fuel service from three trucks at all hours and operates a charter service with two Cessna Citation jets. Stebbins and KRS Jet Center are the two fixed-based operators at the airport, and Stebbens is marking its 30th anniversary this month with a "Soaring in the Future" party on the premises.

"We started with a small operation and that has grown into what we are today," said Tutt, who joined the company three months ago.

It began operations in the huge metal building that now houses Gregg Aviation, he said, and Stebbins still owns that building. It bought Sunpoint Aviation in 1991 and now occupies a 35,000-square-foot building at 231 Terminal Circle.

Stebbins began offering its charter service in 1996, and it has become a major convenience for business owners and corporate executives who need to get to their destinations and back quickly with no stopovers, according to Joe Foster, an 11-year employee who manages the charter service with five pilots. One jet seats seven passengers, and the other carries four.

"First of all, time is money for our charter customers," Foster said.

He said business clients may book flights with as few as two hours notice, depending on availability, and determine their own arrival and return times.

Flights can be as close as Austin or San Antonio, and the service can take passengers throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada and the Bahamas. However, Foster said the bulk of the company's flights are within the five-state region of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Pilots also will pick up clients in Shreveport, Texarkana, Dallas and Houston and take them to where they want to go, Foster said. Tutt calls that aspect of the service a "limo in the sky."

Foster added that all clients may choose to fly to a smaller or private airport if it is closer to their destination.

Stebbins Aviation also saves charter clients time by doing security checks for the Transportation Security Administration, unlike for commercial flights where passengers are advised to arrive two hours in advance.

Referring to new customers, Foster said, "We check all their paperwork beforehand. ... We have people in place that can actually check by identification information just to make sure they are not on a TSA (security) list."

In addition to providing charter flights for business customers, Stebbins provides flights for medical crews once or twice a week, Foster said.

He and Tutt would not disclose how many Stebbins charter flights take off from the airport.

They said the three hangars hold about 40 planes, and the company offers plane owners long-term leases.

Besides serving private planes, Stebbins has contracts with branches of the U.S. military that fly to the airport, Tutt said.

Tutt and Foster are among 15 employees.

Receptionist Laura McDowra, an employee for three years, said she enjoys her job because it's never dull.

"You see all the kinds of aircraft and all kinds of great people, the pilots, the celebrities," she said.

Tutt would not identify any celebrities.

Tutt said he hopes Stebbins will be in business for another 30 years, and received encouragement from Airport Director Roy Miller.

"I wish them another 30 years of business," he said.

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