Pro Star Celebrates 25 Years

Pro Star Aviation just accomplished its biggest milestone yet: 25 years in business. I recently sat down with Managing Partner Kevin Harriman and Director of Sales and Marketing Jeff Shaw, both of whom have been there since the start. We reflected on Pro Star’s first quarter century in aviation, as well as what is in store for the future of the company.

Both Kevin and Jeff agreed that one of the most important moments in Pro Star’s beginning was acquiring the hangar at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. “There were a couple of corporate operators that were in the hangar we ended up buying that had no clue that the owners were willing to sell,” Kevin explained, “had those operator’s known, they would’ve scooped it up and we would’ve been out of luck, because that was the only place on this airport that worked for us. So, when we were able to get our original hangar, that was a huge accomplishment.”

Another early hurdle was securing dealerships. After parting from Wiggins (formerly Stead) Aviation, Kevin told me he was doubtful they would be able to land dealerships at the same airport. “Typically, Collins, Honeywell and Universal would not give dealerships to multiple facilities on an airport. So, I was a little worried that they wouldn’t give it to us, but we came back from AEA, and we actually secured them on the first day. That was a key launching point for the avionics portion of our business.” This was not the only major feat Pro Star needed to accomplish. “One of the other issues we needed to overcome was to have an investor that understood aviation, and had a commitment to New England…New England is a very expensive place to do this…there’s not a lot of major Service Centers in New England because of the cost to do business,” Jeff elaborated, “We needed someone that understood aviation in New England, what we were trying to do, and had enough capital to fund it until it was self-sustaining. We found that investor in Henry Laughlin, who owned another aviation company in Portland, ME.”

Something they were both proud of was Pro Star’s extensive history creating STCs. In fact, as Kevin explained, Pro Star completed its “first STC on a Lear 60 no more than four months into the existence of the company. Even before we had an ODA, we were already doing many STCs, and Jeff was part of that process from the beginning. That kind of put us on the map in terms of showing people that we knew what we were doing.” This legitimization of the company and their work opened the door for Pro Star to be awarded the Pilatus Sales and Service Center in 2009. Kevin told me that for “the maintenance department, the Pilatus Service Center has turned out to be the single best thing that’s happened to them.” This helped to strengthen Pro Star as a serious Maintenance and Repair Organization (MRO) contender in the Northeast, “because Pilatus was looking at about 12 places throughout the New England region, and we ended up getting it.”

As Kevin spoke of the progress they’ve made, from piecemealing maintenance on King Airs and Merlins to being a Pilatus service center, Jeff put into perspective how much of this growth was based on having the right people. “There were key milestones in the last 25 years that are related to personnel. Like Gary with the Hawkers, he was a Hawker Tech. Rep., we hired him, and that created a whole jet maintenance business that we didn’t have before…Now, with Sean Peterson [current GM], and his Embraer experience, we are an Embraer service center.” These connections from within were key for Pro Star’s future.

Kevin and Jeff both recognize how important Pro Star’s employees are in fostering this growth and change. “Bringing the right people in at the right time allowed us to create and establish a reputation…with us doing STCs, you got Mike and I to come along,” Jeff recalled to Kevin, “but we also had a really strong relationship with the FAA both at the flight standards level and the aircraft certifications level because we were doing STCs at Stead, and Mike and I were involved with that. That established us as a standard in the industry, so that led to every major avionics company having one of our employees on the advisory board.” Kevin expressed immense pride in this as well. “There’s a select few people that get invited to those boards…To me, that’s one of the biggest recognitions that you can get.”

Because employees are such a fundamental aspect of the company’s success, Pro Star has made an effort to provide a friendly and understanding environment. Jeff explained that even when employees leave, the door is always open to them. “Mark Norklun, who was one of the original employees, worked for 15 years outside of our company, and when he had a job change, the first place he looked was here. Then, Mark Ordung was another employee that came back. So, people leave Pro Star and pursue career advancements, those two being notably among them, but when they decide that’s not the direction they want to continue, they come back here.”

It might sound cliché, but Pro Star Aviation is truly a ‘Family First’ company. Kevin gave me an example, demonstrating why putting family first for their employees is so important. “How could you be doing a safety sensitive position on an aircraft, wanting to be at your kid’s soccer game and thinking about your kid’s soccer game and how you’re not there…just go to the soccer game, and then make up your stuff later, whether it be coming in early the next day or stay later during the week. Let’s face it, people have jobs to support their family, and that’s why family has to be first.” That’s why, for their 25th anniversary, Pro Star is celebrating “the employees and their families, because,” Kevin insisted, “we would have never gotten here without that…this milestone is about pride for our employees.”

Over its first 25 years, Pro Star’s many accomplishments have made a true impact in the Northeastern aviation field. Kevin recalls the years before they started, explaining, “There was really no Class A operation to take a nice corporate jet to in New England, besides the OEMs, to get some of these extensive avionics mods done. We are that place now.” New England, as a whole, has seen an explosion of aviation over these decades. “We’ve always said that aviation is not very big in New England. Let me tell you, we won’t be saying that 20 years from now. So in that way, our location is key, and we’re taking advantage of it.” Looking to the future, Kevin is hopeful for Pro Star’s growth. “25 years from now, I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be 100,000 square feet of hangar space that Pro Star has in Manchester.”


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