Smith making sure Doss Aviation stays airborne

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By Becky Hurley

As president of Doss Aviation, Ken Smith first got involved with the company in 2006 when a proposal he spearheaded as a consultant to Doss Aviation founder Frank Hunter resulted in the award of a $182 million, 10-year U.S. Air Force contract for flight screening services based in Pueblo. A year later, Hunter retired and Smith was named to head the company.

Today, Smith says Doss, with its 500 worldwide employees, is a “very small large business.”

How did Doss Aviation identify its original fuel and flight screening niche?

The company started 30 years ago as a flight screening service provider for pilots at Fort Rucker in Alabama. In the mid-1980s Frank Hunter fell in love with Colorado Springs and move here to be nearer to a new client, the United States Air Force Academy. We added fuel supply servicing about that time — long before other government contractors got into the business. A few years ago we began doing aircraft maintenance for customers like Homeland Security and the Border Patrol as well as for the U.S. Air Force at the Pueblo training facility. Each of those categories — flight screening, fuel and aircraft maintenance — represent about one-third each of our total business.

Why did Doss Aviation select Pueblo for its flight training headquarters rather than Colorado Springs?

One of the main reasons was the amount of free air space around Pueblo. Around Colorado Springs, there are many restricted zones around Cheyenne Mountain, Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever (Air Force Base). We’re not as confined there.

Another reason was that Pueblo had a vacant building right next to the Airport. The city also agreed to an incentive package that included construction of taxiways directly on to the runway. Today their control tower is one of the busiest in the state.

How do the two operations compare?

We have a 200,000-square-foot main building and a few smaller buildings in Pueblo, adjacent to the Airport where we train about 200 pilots annually. That facility includes a hotel, restaurants, fitness center and classrooms. We have about 165 employees there — most of whom are military veterans and 25 percent of whom live in Colorado Springs. There are another 18 U.S. Air Force personnel who monitor the program. It’s a very prestigious contract for us.

In Colorado Springs we have about 20 employees at our corporate headquarters. Another 40 employees provide flight training, fuel and aircraft maintenance for a new Powered Flight Program and glider towing, fuel services and aircraft maintenance at the U.S. Air Force Academy. We’ve had that contract for 13 years.

As a $50 million-a-year company, what does the future hold, especially based on changing DOD insourcing practices?

We have an aggressive five-year “rolling” growth plan that targets new contracts, rebidding and “pop-ups” — previously unannounced opportunities. Right now we’re working on at least five new contracts. Our 500 employees work all over the world in places like the Island of Crete, Japan and all over the United States.

Secretary Gates is rescinding the move toward insourcing. He’s found it isn’t saving money.

To do what we do, the Air Force would have to depend on what we call “legacy” aircraft, most of which are 30 or 40 years old. Just parts and equipment for old aircraft are very expensive. We own and operate 71 newer fuel-efficient aircraft and 80 fuel tankers. The government gets to use them without the added upkeep and expense.