December 1, 2010
Names and Numbers, based in Pittsburg, KS, produces phone books and business directories for nearly 100 communities in 14 states. Since Ken Brock purchased the small company with five directories in 1974, he has been able to grow his business by using business aircraft to reach small and rural communities from Washington to Mississippi.
Brock earned his pilot’s license as a teenager, washing airplanes and cleaning hangars in exchange for weekly flying lessons. When he wanted to reach out to new clients as the owner of Names and Numbers, he knew his single engine Piper Archer would be the best tool for the job.
“I’d say it was a natural evolution from just me and the Archer to the flight department we have now,” said Brock. “As the destinations got farther away, the flights got longer, there was a need for more pilots and eventually more planes.”
Brock said that many of his peers have misperceptions about the expense of a flight department. The impression they have is that a flight department – with all the pilot, airplane, hangar and maintenance costs – is much too expensive and overwhelming.
“If we can help people understand how doable and affordable it is to have a flight department, then a lot more companies would be flying today,” he said. “Friends look at our flight department and ask how we can afford to fly and maintain these airplanes. I ask them how they can afford to operate fleets of trucks or cars. These are business tools.”
Knowing When and How to Expand Your Operations
The first step in expanding a flight operation is to evaluate mission profiles.
“You simply quantify the cost of owning or leasing the airplane that fits your mission, then determine the size of the flight department according to your budget and flying needs,” Brock explained. For many years, Names and Numbers chartered and leased aircraft that could be flown by a single pilot. As the destinations grew farther away from Pittsburg, Brock used longer-range aircraft.
The first Archer, as well as a Beech Bonanza, Piper Seneca and Beech Baron, were all flown by Brock over the course of 15 years, but a chief pilot was brought on board when Names and Numbers began operating the Baron and longer-range aircraft such as the company’s Beechcraft King Airs.
Two Beechcraft Premiers
Number of People in Flight Department:
Evaluate mission profiles, increase staffing, budget
The company’s King Air 200 remained a good fit in the years when most of the company’s destinations were within 700 miles of Pittsburg, in destinations like Texas, Colorado and Missouri.
However, as Names and Numbers began attracting clients in communities farther away from Pittsburg, Brock looked to augment the reach of the King Air with a second aircraft – a Beechcraft Premier – to reach the outlying destinations more quickly. The altitude capabilities of the light jet also enabled Brock and the chief pilot, Chris Hoffman, to avoid most turbulent air and severe weather while reaching their destinations more efficiently and quickly.
For three years, the company operated both the King Air and Premier. But after reviewing the company’s growth plan, frequent missions and destination airports, Brock elected to sell the King Air and acquire a second Premier.
“It just made sense for us, looking at the numbers,” said Hoffman. “We fly to and through areas that are prone to severe weather, and with the jets, we don’t have to worry about going around those areas like we did in the King Air. We can go over most adverse weather and get to our meetings on time.”
With the additional aircraft and increased travel hours (approximately 350 hours each year), having a fast way to reach clients became vital to the company’s continued growth. Missions are flown to each coast during a normal year, and the company also does some international flying beyond the Premier’s range.
Of course, longer-range and more powerful aircraft meant that additional pilots were needed to operate the jets. Chief Pilot Hoffman manages the Names and Numbers flight department.
The Benefits of Flight Department Management
“A big mistake some companies can make is to fill their pilots’ time with other duties in the office,” Brock said. “There is a lot that goes into running the flight department every day that they need to focus on.” Consequently, Hoffman and the pilots concentrate their work on the day-to-day operations of the flight department and are not assigned any non-aviation-related duties.
Hoffman manages the aviation department budget, which he develops each year with Brock, based on the previous years’ flight hours and destinations, as well as growth targets in the coming fiscal year. “Depending on the prosperity of the year, we set in advance the number of flight hours we can budget for the next year,” Brock said.
“If we can help people understand how doable and affordable it is to have a flight department, then a lot more companies would be flying today. ”
Hoffman said that maintenance and repair costs are managed using Beechcraft’s maintenance program. Names and Numbers pays a set rate for every hour in flight, and the repairs and maintenance costs are covered by Beechcraft.
“Safety is never compromised on our missions,” declared Hoffman. “We don’t like surprise maintenance costs, and this [Beechcraft maintenance program] has been a good tool for us,” he said. “If we fly this many hours, we know exactly how much we pay for our repairs. If something breaks, we’re never left wondering how we can afford to pay for a replacement.”
Hoffman also oversees the training of his pilots, most of which is handled by FlightSafety International.
“We know we’re good pilots, and we take all the training we can to stay current. But sometimes communication skills and positive attitude skills can get forgotten,” he said. “We put an emphasis on having a positive and professional environment to work in because it helps us be better pilots and better people.”
Sometimes the pilots are the first Names and Numbers employees that clients or prospective staff members meet, so Hoffman and Brock put a premium on professional attitude and appearance. Brock said that because the flight department is run professionally as its own entity, the rest of the company sees the benefits.
“Our budget team has become believers in the flight department,” Hoffman said. “They see the revenues we’re able to bring into Names and Numbers.”
With offices in 14 states, Names and Numbers uses the airplanes not only to reach new clients and communities but also to transport staff to different offices more frequently than if they had to schedule their own trips via the airlines.
Sales teams are frequent passengers on company aircraft, but other employees fly as well. “We’ll often fill the empty seats on our airplanes with human resources or information technology staff who work in other offices,” Brock said. “These aircraft really are tremendous business tools.”