Citations and salutations

Citations and salutations

By Lee Shappell

It’s 10 a.m. on a recent Tuesday morning, and there is anticipation in the air at Pulver Aviation.

It’s shaping up as a historic day for the growing Airpark charter-carrier and air-ambulance company.

The phone rings and Pulver President Brandon Kearns comes away beaming. It’s the owner of both of the Cessna Citation Xs in the Pulver fleet. The FAA has just approved a medical configuration to be installed.

“So we’re the first one,” Kearns says. “We’re going to have the fastest air-ambulance planes in the world. The first one. So it’s kind of a big day, not only for us but a big day for the aircraft owner, because the owner has aspirations and desires.

“The even bigger winner is going to be the patient that the flight speed, the range of this aircraft is going to save somebody’s life. We’re going to be able to start providing the quickest response time from Hawaii to the mainland, Europe to the mainland, higher and faster than any air ambulance ever was able to go.”

Sitting nearby at a conference table, company owner David Pulver also breaks into a grin, and adds, “And even transcontinental, east coast to west coast. It’s the fastest, but it’s not the most expensive, either.”

About 45 minutes later, Bob Russell walks through the door with more good news. He’s been an investor and hangar owner in the Airpark area since the 1970s. He owns an airplane that was based in Burbank, Calif., and he is ready to make a change.

As he sits down and signs the paperwork to join the team, Pulver has its 10th aircraft, significant given that at the beginning of the year the company had two,  and Pulver’s business at that point was little more than an expensive hobby, Pulver says.

Things are happening quickly at Pulver Aviation.

With the Citation Xs, things will be happening even faster. The aircraft is regarded in the industry as the fastest, long-range, medium-size business jet in the world. The $23 million, twin-engine jet, depending upon its configuration for charter business or air-ambulance service, has a range of roughly 3,300 miles, flight level of 47,000 feet at 675 mph.

“It’s smooth up there,” Kearns says. “You’re passing everybody.”

Kearns says Pulver Aviation is now the largest operator of Citation Xs in the Valley. Pulver’s Citation X pilots have 3,000 to 4,000 hours in the model, and 10,000 to 15,000 hours of total time.

“You don’t find that anyplace else,” Kearns says. “We’re fortunate to have that type of talent here.”

Now, with a staff of 25 that includes two new experienced mechanics and a new chief financial officer, new software to enhance recordkeeping of maintenance and scheduling, its first South American operation under its belt, and those Citation Xs in the fleet with the expectation of at least one more coming, Pulver Aviation has become a player at Scottsdale Airport in less than a year.

“We’ve basically reset the company,” Kearns says. “In essence, it’s a new company.”

Pulver acquires aircraft from owners who are paying for a hangar, paying for insurance and scheduled maintenance, whether the craft is flying or not. Pulver Aviation provides management of it all in exchange for use of the craft.

“Owners want to do something with that multi-million-dollar asset when they’re not using it,” Pulver said. “We have operational control of the airplane at all times. It’s in our fleet. It’s available to use as inventory to use.

“The aircraft owner is trusting us with this asset. Everything has to be managed well, from maintenance to dispatch. We have to make sure that we’re looking out for their best interest.”

.  .  .

Pulver and Kearns seem to be joined at the hip, often finishing each other’s sentences.

“We’re better together,” Pulver said.

Like many entrepreneurs, Pulver, 45, has taken his hits on the flight path to success.

He came to the desert from New Jersey and earned an engineering degree at the University of Arizona. A self-proclaimed geek, his background is software and information technology, yet he is captivated by the allure of flight.

“Since I was a little kid I wanted to get a pilot’s license,” Pulver says.

He’s also a self-proclaimed workaholic. He says it’s rare that he does something for himself.

“In the dot-com boom, I had a successful e-commerce integration company,” Pulver says. “We were offered tons and tons of money for it, but my stupid ex-business partner didn’t want to sell because he was listening to how the dot-com bubble would continue to expand. I had no idea why somebody wanted to offer us tens of millions of dollars for this company, but let’s take it. And if all these analysts are right, our non-compete will be over in two or three years, we can do it again.

“Long story short, I rode the crashing wave down. We had taken a company that I grew organically with no investment money with over 60 people down to where I could count the number on my hand, owing the bank money, trying to figure how to survive. I had that Porsche in the driveway like every other dot-com guy, an expensive house. I went from being a paper multi millionaire to qualifying for food stamps overnight.

“So I decided to finally do something for myself. I had put it off for so long, but I decided to go after the most expensive hobby out there and get my pilot’s license.”

Kearns says he was bitten by the bug early, too.

“My parents took me on flight go meet my grandmother in West Virginia,” Kearns said. “We flew TWA from Wichita, and I knew right then and there when I saw the flight crew that I wanted to be a pilot.”

At 15 he started taking flight lessons. At 16, he soloed. At 17, he got his license. Two months after graduating form high school, he was a flight instructor at 18.

He continued to work his way up, building a charter fleet in Columbus, Ohio, to 34 aircraft from 16 when he was offered a job in the Valley to head an air-ambulance firm.

The two met when Pulver was involved with a biomedical company that decontaminated the air-ambulance aircraft.

“We said, ‘Let’s see how much trouble we can get into together, and we’ve had success after success,” Kearns said. “It’s our ability to work well off of each other. We synergize very well.

“We’re good with the owners. We know what they want. We know what the flight crews want. We don’t just deliver a good product to the owners, I think we deliver it to employees, as well. Dave and I have really focused on our infrastructure. Our goal is to create an aviation company of highly skilled aviation professionals that come to work every day, have a lot of fun doing it, work hard, and deliver the best product out there.”

Pulver chimes in, “That’s also how we recruit and retain employees. And we’re always reviewing the metrics to see how we could do it better for the customer.”

“We’ve had a good amount of success acquiring airplanes, but we’ve turned it into a real operation that includes global, worldwide service. That’s a big transition to take in just a year, increasing in size, complexities and territories.”

Things are, indeed, happening quickly at Pulver Aviation.