Saturday, April 23, 2022

Dana and Robbie Wills open aircraft repair business at Conway Regional Airport (KCXW)

Robbie and Dana Wills.

Dana Wills and her husband, former Arkansas Speaker of the House Robbie Wills, have started Conway Aircraft, a repair business based at the Conway Regional Airport.

The couple partnered with the city of Conway to build the 10,000-square-foot hangar to fill a need in the market as there were no shop offerings at the airport.

Conway Aircraft provides full-service jet, turbine and piston aircraft engine maintenance as well as avionics installation and repair.

The couple is investing $520,000 to construct the hangar, while the city obtained $400,000 through two government grants. The city will own the hangar and lease it to Conway Aircraft. The $520,000 will be applied to the lease on a monthly basis. Equipping the hangar and hiring additional staff will be an additional cost borne by the couple.

“I believe it’s approaching 18 years of rent that we have prepaid to the city of Conway to make this happen,” Robbie said.

Conway Aircraft currently employs three mechanics and an operations manager at an existing location at the North Little Rock Municipal Airport. The company will continue to maintain that shop as a satellite location.

While 80 aircraft call the Conway airport home, the couple says it’s a regional market that will attract pilots from across Arkansas. Dana said there are about 800 planes in central Arkansas and 3,000 across the state.

Dana is a certified public accountant and is serving as chief financial officer. Robbie has a general contractor’s license and has been in charge of construction. He’s also the one who talks to prospective customers.

The couple’s interest in starting an aircraft maintenance shop stemmed from their own experiences. Robbie has been a pilot since 2014 and flies the family’s Beechcraft Bonanza. With no shop in Conway since the airport opened, the planes based there must go elsewhere for maintenance, repairs and inspections.

Efforts to recruit a repair shop to Conway haven’t succeeded. The couple considered building a hangar and renting it out. Finally, Dana suggested they start the business. They had to go through a public bidding process in order to form the public-private partnership with the city of Conway.

“What we kind of joke around here, it’s like there’s something that pilots and teenagers have in common, and that’s basically that they hate to be grounded,” Dana said.

The two approached two mechanics they had used for years at the North Little Rock Municipal Airport who had worked for a company whose owner had passed away. The director of maintenance, Walt English, will work in Conway, while the assistant director, Aaron Bulmanski, will head the North Little Rock satellite office. The mechanics will travel back and forth.

Meanwhile, Conway Aircraft has formed a 50-50 partnership with Fort Smith-based ABS Avionics to open an avionics shop that will create at least two jobs. Industry veteran Rodney Paul has been hired as director of avionics.

Robbie and Dana are two of the four partners in a lobbying firm, WSG Consulting. Their firm includes three other former legislators, including former Speaker of the House Bill Stovall, Rick Green, and Kelley Linck.

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