Co-owner Will Gaitros, left, and assistant mechanic John Dixson refasten a cowling after finishing service work on a plane at Gaitros Aviation.
Line service worker Mark Wintz fuels an airplane.
Co-owner Will Gaitros refastens a wingtip after treating plane wings to prevent corrosion at Gaitros Aviation.
DECATUR – Located just north of the Decatur Airport control tower, Gaitros Aviation might escape the notice of many airport visitors.
Air Choice One fliers and Main Hangar restaurant diners head for the main terminal, but the Gaitros facility is the front door to Decatur for pilots and passengers of corporate and private planes.
First impressions are important, Will and Jessica Gaitros know, and they do their best to make a good one.
The fixed-base operator provides refueling, maintenance and mechanical services as well as a lounge for pilots and passengers. They'll even pick up food from various restaurants in town for jet pilots who have requested it on their planes.
The couple opened the business in June 2010, filling a gap in services at the airport. Decatur Park District employees had provided fueling and line service, but Will Gaitros was the first aircraft mechanic at the airport since Decatur Aviation closed in 2005.
Airport traffic gets a boost from the additional amenities, said airport director Tim Wright. People will bring their planes from other airports and even other states to receive Gaitros' expertise.
“Over the years, Will and Jessica have built the business on honesty and hard work,” Wright said. “The honesty and the hard work shows by the amount of transient aircraft that come to Decatur Airport to get their airplanes or their aircraft worked on.”
Originally from Cerro Gordo, Will Gaitros graduated from Spartan College of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Okla., with an airframe and powerplant certificate and an associate degree in aviation maintenance. He received a bachelor's degree in aviation technology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Before coming to Decatur, he worked for AVMATS in Mascoutah, where he learned sheetmetal fabrication, installation and repair on Navy and corporate aircraft, in addition to practicing his mechanical skills. He also helped with the opening of a new fixed-base operator in the St. Louis area.
Gaitros has also attained inspection authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, meaning he can perform required annual inspections on aircraft. The designation isn't granted to just anyone; mechanics must have worked a minimum of three years in the field before they are eligible to take the test.
There's not much in the way of mechanical services that Gaitros can't offer for single- and twin-engine aircraft. He can change oil, tires and engines. People who want to customize their planes – adding a new radio system or lights, for example – can receive those services, too.
Gaitros Aviation is also one of three repair centers in the state for Rotax, a specialty type of aircraft engine.
“It's just a different type of engine than most people are used to, so there's some specialized training on it,” Will Gaitros said. “We have that training, so we can do just about anything on a Rotax engine.”
Jessica Gaitros, who has a bachelor's degree in finance, manages the business functions of the office, including payroll, taxes and invoicing. It's a family affair, as sons Jackson, 5, and Bennett, 2, have grown up around the airport.
“It's really neat when someone lands and my 5-year-old says, 'I like your (Cessna) Citation,'” Will Gaitros said. “He knows the airplanes.”
The business also has five employees who have all received safety certifications through the National Air Transportation Association.
The couple solidified their future plans in 2013 by purchasing the buildings and trucks they use from the park district. They recently expanded marketing efforts to appeal to pilots within a 50-mile radius, people who might be unfamiliar with what Gaitros can offer.
It's been a steady journey to reclaim business lost in the five years the airport was without a mechanic.
“Some probably went to neighboring cities, some probably went someplace else and then we took it over,” Will Gaitros said. “Eventually people are coming back, but once you build a relationship with someone you know, it's going to take a while to get that back.”
Gaitros Aviation is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Friday, and 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday. The business offers after-hours and holiday call-out, so services are available 24/7.
Many pilots have Will Gaitros' cellphone number, which is on his business card. He has even made house calls.
People respond well to the high level of service. A majority of reviews on airnav.com, billed as a informational website for pilots, include a five-star rating.
One pilot, Jeffrey Meyer, wrote in 2014 that he stopped overnight in Decatur while flying from Florida to Wisconsin, only to discover that his plane needed a new alternator.
He rented a car and drove home, then returned the following week to retrieve the plane.
“I was a little nervous about a different mechanic working on the plane, but they did a great job,” he wrote. “It runs great, and all the paperwork was very detailed and in order. These guys are the best.”
Original article can be found here: http://herald-review.com