Texas businessman quickly ramps up use of bizav
Mark Hicks probably isn’t the first business owner to credit road construction with pushing him into aircraft ownership but he might be one of the fastest at ramping up his involvement in business aviation.
Within four years, the owner of Hicks Lightning Protection in Dallas went from frustrating, day-long drives from north Texas to Houston, Austin or San Antonio to chartering and then owning his own aircraft for relaxing, quick flights to all three satellite offices in the same day.
“It’s completely changed our business,” said Hicks, 44, who now owns a 1981 Beechcraft King Air B200 and a 1997 Cessna Citation Ultra. He hires Oshman Aviation Group to operate the aircraft, which are flown about 300 hours a year for business and personal use from Hicks’ custom-built 10,000-square-foot hangar at Denton Enterprise Airport. And earlier this year, Hicks became an investor in Oshman Aviation Group.
An aviation pedigree
Although not a pilot, Hicks has spent plenty of time in small aircraft. His father, the late John Hicks, was a new Piper dealer in north Texas.
“All of our family vacations were in private airplanes, and I just thought it was the coolest thing ever as a kid,” Hicks said. “I remember flying to Ducks Unlimited meetings, Disney World and even going along with my dad to show or deliver airplanes.”
Being raised in the industry made aviation a natural solution when his business grew large enough. He started Hicks Lightning Protection in 2005, at first serving Texas and the surrounding states. Today the company has 66 employees and works in 15 states, installing lightning protection and grounding systems in new commercial buildings.
“The majority of our work is data centers,” Hicks said. “We work for a lot of big companies: Facebook, Google, eBay, Microsoft.”
One of the company’s largest customers is CyrusOne, a Dallas-based real estate investment trust that has invested in more than 35 data centers in 11 markets.
“For most of our flying in Texas, you’re not going to be there any sooner if you fly a jet versus a King Air. We love the pilot availability and how easy it is to get parts for the King Airs. Plus, they hold their value well.”
“We bought the first airplane in 2014, a Piper Navajo, but it didn’t take long to know I wanted something safer, faster and bigger,” Hicks said.
After a year, Hicks traded the Navajo for a 1979 King Air 200. Since then, he has owned two different King Air 350 models and purchased his current 1981 King Air B200.
Now Hicks has the chance to take his own family, a wife and two daughters ages 5 and 7, on private flights, including to their beach house on the Texas coast and on golfing, hunting and fishing trips.
Growing the business
Hicks estimates that in the three years since he started using aircraft for business, Hicks Lightning Protection has grown by 40 percent. Flying privately has allowed his team to communicate face-to-face more often and enabled them to get to more job site meetings, improving relationships with customers.
The company uses either the King Air or the Citation to take engineers, estimators and project managers to bid on jobs around the country, from as far west as Arizona to as far east as Virginia. “They’re usually in remote locations where flying commercial is just out of the question,” Hicks said.
Of Hicks Lightning Protection’s 300 hours flown last year, 250 were in the King Air. The majority of those King Air B200 flights were for travel from the main office in Dallas to satellite offices in Houston, Austin and San Antonio.
“We have managers at each location,” Hicks said. “The King Air is a good tool to get everyone together in the same location to have a meeting, and then everyone can be at home in their own beds that same night.”
Buying and selling King Airs
Scott Oshman met Hicks in 2015, when Hicks came to the dealer Oshman was working for to buy his first King Air.
“The first King Air 200 wasn’t necessarily a hard sell primarily because Mark had done his due diligence prior to our first meeting and he knew the strong capabilities of the aircraft,” said Oshman, a fellow Denton resident. “It became a matter of pinpointing the right available on and off market options with the best value to fit his missions needs.”
Since then, the two have teamed up on each of Hicks’ acquisitions. His current B200 is a 1981 model loaded with Raisbeck options including Four-Blade Quiet Turbofan Propellers, Enhanced Performance Leading Edges, Dual Aft Body Strakes and a Ram Air Recovery System. In March 2016, Hicks worked through Oshman to completely refurbish the interior and paint with the same scheme he applied to a 2005 King Air 350 he acquired in January 2016.
“The 2005 King Air 350 was a low-time airplane with Pro Line avionics and the engines had never been overhauled before, which to us was a good value,” Oshman said. “It had Raisbeck strakes and wing lockers, satellite phones, dual FMS, and a TCAS II that is about a $100,000 add-on. It had a good pedigree from a corporate company in Japan and was just coming off fresh inspections from Beechcraft maintenance. It was a good clean airplane that allowed Mark to make it his own with new paint and interior.”
Hicks outfitted the plane to his own style, with the idea he’d be flying it for years.
“In Texas, we like to do things western, so we made the paint scheme tans and browns,” Hicks said. “I call the interior ‘rustic with a modern flair.’ The seats are distressed leather, alligator skin for the sidewalls, real dark woods and the carpet is tan and white zebra print. It sounds crazy but it looks very good together.”
It looked so good, in fact, that Hicks used the design for his B200 and ended up with the chance to flip the 350. A buyer fell in love with the airplane, increasing his initial offer earlier this year to make Hicks an offer he couldn’t refuse. That transaction whetted Oshman and Hicks’ appetite for buying and selling airplanes. Oshman formed his own company at the beginning of the year, and Hicks is now an investor.
“Mark and I developed a friendship early as a result of our first aircraft deal together,” Oshman said. “After getting to know each other over a few months, we quickly realized we had similar personal and business interests, a few mutual friends, and we both shared a passion for aviation. I knew very early on that Mark was a great guy. Our friendship then easily built itself from there. The decision to go into business together was based upon the opportunity to combine our core values, knowledge and experience to create a successful aviation company that provides customers with an ‘above board’ experience.”
Oshman Aviation Group specializes in buying and selling King Air and Citation aircraft, along with fleet management and refurbishment services.
Earlier this year, Hicks built a new 10,000-square-foot hangar at Denton Enterprise Airport, an indication he plans to grow his use of business aviation.
“The main reason for building the hangar was that the airport we stay at in Denton didn’t have much space for a King Air-size airplane,” Hicks said.
“I decided to build my own, plus it gives me the ability to not have to work through an FBO or lease space.”
The hangar features restrooms, an office, a bar and a wall dedicated to Pearl Jam. “I’m just a huge Pearl Jam fan and I started collecting their concert posters 20 years ago,” Hicks said. “The collection has gotten pretty big, so my wife isn’t letting me hang them at home anymore.”
There’s also room to grow his fleet. Hicks plans to always keep a King Air 200 in his fleet and likely will trade the Citation in the near future for another King Air 350, which has become his favorite model.
“The 200 is just an overall great plane and very economical,” he said. “And I love the cabin layout and feel of the 350. For most of our flying in Texas, you’re not going to be there any sooner if you fly a jet versus a King Air. We love the pilot availability and how easy it is to get parts for the King Airs. Plus, they hold their value well.”
Added Oshman, “The Citation goes faster, farther and higher, but for Mark’s business purposes, the King Air is the best bang for the buck.”
Photos courtesy of AeroPhotographic.com