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Saturday, November 1, 2003

Cutter Aviation: 75 years of Quality Service

Bill Whittaker

A focus on quality and integrity has served Cutter Aviation and its customers well for 75 years.

Cutter Aviation has two reasons to celebrate in 2003. First, along with the rest of us in the aviation world, they will mark the first century of controlled, powered, manned flight achieved by the Wright brothers in 1903. The second reason has a personal flavor to it as Cutter Aviation observes 75 years of service to the aviation community, its diamond anniversary.

Founded by William P. Cutter in 1928 at the airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Cutter Aviation offered personal aircraft services to an aviation community that was just getting off the ground itself. Despite the Depression of the 1930s, Cutter Aviation managed to keep the doors open and its customers flying.

With the outbreak of World War II, Cutter Aviation went to war as a flight training facility for military pilots. Not only did Cutter Aviation provide basic flight training, but also trained many of the glider pilots who played a key part in landing troops behind enemy lines during the D-Day invasion of Europe. During this period, Cutter Aviation also was an official Naval Aerobatics School where Navy pilots learned the skills to survive air combat and become the "Top Guns" of their era.

After the war, Cutter Aviation went back to its general aviation business and became a dealer for Beech Aircraft Corporation in 1947, an affiliation that continues to this day. In 1959, Cutter Aviation opened its second location at Phoenix, Arizona, where it now has its headquarters. Beyond Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Albuquerque International Sunport, Cutter Aviation has expanded its sphere of operations throughout the Southwest to include facilities at El Paso International Airport in 1982; Phoenix Deer Valley Airport in 1997; San Antonio International Airport in 1998; Santa Monica Municipal Airport in 2000; and Dallas Executive Airport (formerly Redbird) in 2002.

Today, Cutter Aviation remains a privately held, family-run operation. Maybe that’s why they have an extremely loyal and ever-growing following among aircraft owners and operators. The kind of customer loyalty that Cutter Aviation enjoys, though, is firmly based on the high quality of its skilled maintenance, attention to detail, and fulfilling that all-important promise of on-time delivery.

The individual in charge of Cutter Aviation’s maintenance operations is Tom Austin, vice president of aircraft services. His responsibilities consist of aircraft maintenance services, avionics service, parts distribution, and interior completion services. Austin settled into this position about a year and a half ago, coming to Cutter Aviation after extensive maintenance management experience with Kal-Aero and then Duncan Aviation in Lincoln, Nebraska. His approach to maintenance is exactly the way Cutter Aviation sees its maintenance philosophy, which can be summed up in one word, "Integrity."

"In aviation service and maintenance," said Austin, "you have to take your promises to your customers seriously. When they come in for maintenance, you have to know what needs to be done, what it will take to do it, and how long it will take to get it done. I’ve found that many of the organizations in this business do not take these promises as seriously as they should. When promises aren’t met, it reflects poorly on the individual who made them, yes, but even more so on the organization that person represents. I’m proud to say that at Cutter we are committed to meeting our promises, and our company name stands behind that commitment."

According to Austin, one of the ways Cutter stands by this commitment to meet its maintenance promises is to operate a second shift and a weekend shift. With mechanics available to do the work, Austin has to make sure the work flows through correctly to meet the scheduled delivery to the customer.

"Since coming to Cutter," Austin continued, "I’ve established scheduling meetings that are held three times � a week with all of our interior, service, avionics, parts, inspection, and line service managers. The purpose is to coordinate the maintenance work and needs of all concerned with the timely delivery of the aircraft between departments and the final delivery to the customer. I believe that, in the course of maintenance, the interdepartmental deliveries are every bit as important as that promised delivery to the customer. Scheduling is a very important item in the maintenance equation and helps us to pay attention to every detail in the process.

"All this promise keeping and sticking to schedules, however, would fall apart if it weren’t for the maintenance technician on the floor," Austin added. "The technicians must have a high level of knowledge and skills. They should have the best possible training with recurrency training to stay at the top of their abilities. The tools available to them, likewise, should be of a state-of-the-art quality. This results in an exceptional quality of maintenance services."

To make his point, Austin used the parts department as an example that demands a high level of service. When a customer calls for a certain part, the person taking the call needs to know instantly what that part is and where it is available. Then, that person has to know which of the sources available is the most dependable for putting that part into the process as well as which shipper has the best capability to get that part to its final destination. When all of this comes together with a high degree of efficiency, the customer gets the needed part quickly and wherever it is needed.

Cutter Aviation has always been fortunate in having, and keeping, high-level well qualified and experienced maintenance technicians. As a family-run operation, Cutter Aviation looks for technicians who want to be a part of their closely-knit group, people who want to make their career at Cutter Aviation. In so doing, Cutter Aviation has created a stable organization in which many of the maintenance technicians working on the hangar floor have been with the company for more than 30 years.

Over the years, Cutter Aviation seems to have found the right formula to inspire loyalty from both employees and customers alike. According to Austin, "Most customers who buy their aircraft from Cutter, stay with us for their maintenance. When the time comes for their next aircraft purchase, they usually stay with Cutter. This has happened throughout our 75-year history. In some cases, we have customers who have purchased and maintained 15 or more aircraft through the Cutter organization."

Between the internal employee loyalty and the external customer loyalty, maintenance business has been good during these troubling times. "In spite of 9/11 and the slumping economy," Austin continued, "our maintenance activity has increased at all locations. In fact, the Phoenix Deer Valley operation had the biggest year in their history last year."

Cutter Aviation specializes its maintenance in the aircraft they sell. As dealers for Raytheon Beechcraft, New Piper Aircraft, and EADS Socata, they also are service centers for the aircraft of these particular manufacturers.

Of the seven Cutter Aviation locations, five provide full aircraft maintenance: Albuquerque; Phoenix Deer Valley; Phoenix Sky Harbor; Dallas; and San Antonio. This includes parts and avionics sales and service. Interior completion services are based at the Phoenix Sky Harbor location and can be accessed at all seven Cutter Aviation sites. Likewise, line services are available at all seven Cutter Aviation airport locations. Additionally, Cutter Aviation has an aircraft sales office in Midland, Texas.

In celebrating its 75th anniversary, Cutter Aviation is proud of its role in the aviation community and of its contributions to the history of that community. Among Cutter Aviation’s many claims to fame are that it is the oldest FBO in the country, the oldest Beechcraft dealer, and the oldest Phillips 66 fueler.

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