Q&A with Levaero Aviation’s Stan Kuliavas

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | May 4, 2022

Estimated reading time 20 minutes, 22 seconds.

A licensed pilot and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Stan Kuliavas has more than 15 years of aviation experience and OEM product involvement. Today, Kuliavas is part of the senior management team at Levaero Aviation. He is responsible for all aircraft sales and marketing, and also oversees the planning and execution of the growth strategy of the company.

Stan Kuliavas, vice president of sales and business development at Levaero Aviation. Ryan Emberley/Levaero Photo

Levaero Aviation is the exclusive Canadian distributor for Pilatus PC-12 and PC-24 aircraft, and has been since 1997. In addition to sales and service of the PC-12 NGX and the new PC-24 Super Versatile Jet, Levaero also specializes in aircraft acquisition and sales, parts and maintenance, and aircraft charter and management services. The company is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Skies: How did you get involved in aviation, and what brought you to Levaero?

Stan Kuliavas: My start in aviation was not necessarily the most traditional. I wasn’t the kid who knew they wanted to be a pilot from childhood. My father is a pilot and has been in aviation my entire life, but he never pushed it on me as a career. Don’t get me wrong, I thought airplanes were fun. I still remember going on fishing trips with my father in Northern Ontario in a Beaver on floats.

I guess it seems that most people in aviation can tell you the moment they became hooked. And that moment for me was when I was in university. I recall driving to the local airport on a nice weekend. I signed up for an introductory flight, and the next thing I knew I was walking out to an old Cessna 172 that looked like it had seen better days… It was when I pulled back on the yoke and saw that main wheel leave the ground that I fell in love with flying — right there on the spot.

I guess it was then a matter of combining my newfound passion for aviation with business, which was my focus in school. My first job in aviation was in Toronto. I opened the Ontario office for a fractional aircraft provider, and the learning curve was steep. I’m thankful to this day for the opportunity I was given. They put me in charge of growing the customer base in Eastern Canada, selling shares of Pilatus PC-12s and Citation XL/XLS aircraft. I started completely green and learned a ton by the time I left five years later. From there, I was invited to join the team at Levaero Aviation to run all the sales and marketing for PC-12s across Canada. I’ve been a fan of the airplane from the day I was introduced to it at my first job. And today, 15 years later, the feeling is no different. It’s just such a unique platform and a great fit for Canada.

Skies: What is the relationship between Levaero and Pilatus? 

S.K.: Pilatus works through its global network of dealers, and Levaero has been the exclusive dealer for Pilatus aircraft in Canada since 1997. At that time, the company was called V. Kelner Pilatus Center, founded by Canadian aviation figure Frank Kelner. Majority ownership of the company is now with Robert Arnone and Steve Davey — both Thunder Bay locals.

Over the years, the company has seen growth across the board. It established the PC-12 as the number one turboprop in Canada, and recently added the PC-24 Super Versatile Jet to the product offering; it established itself as a global leader in PC-12 life extensions (we’ve completed 37 life extensions to date); and it’s seen a growing maintenance book of business from all across the globe.

Skies: What trends did you see with sales over the last two years for new Pilatus and other pre-owned aircraft?

S.K.: I have to say, the beginning of the pandemic was scary. It was a total shutdown of business from an aircraft sales or acquisition standpoint. So, for a little while, the scariness was in the unknown. But then a few months later, conversations with our customers, from an acquisition standpoint, started up again. And then by the summer of 2020, things really kicked into gear.

Our new prospects were telling us that while they may not be ready to travel quite yet, they had made the decision that traveling privately was how they were going to travel moving forward. So business has been very active since then. Our new order book is very strong. Demand for pre-owned aircraft is the highest it’s ever been, and the supply is the lowest it’s ever been — which creates its own challenges. In the pre-owned market, on any given day, if you look at the percentage of the total in-service fleet that is for sale, it generally hovers in that seven- to eight-percent range. Anything that’s higher than 11 percent can be considered a buyer’s market, and availability in the four-percent range is a seller’s market with fewer options available. The reality is, we are currently sitting at below one percent of the total in-service fleet available for sale. And demand has not slowed down.

It shows you that there have been a lot of new entrants into our industry. More people want to buy aircraft because they realize that they are the ultimate business tool, but nobody is selling aircraft for that same reason.

Skies: What are the major benefits of the PC-12 and PC-24 from an operator’s perspective?

S.K.: The PC-12 is a single pilot airplane that was built to be operated unsupported in the field. Meaning, that airplane is as comfortable operating pavement-to-pavement as it is operating at unimproved strips. In Canada, here in our north, many of those runways are unimproved strips. The operators call it bulletproof. It’s reliable. And dispatch reliability is important to the operator, so they’re very happy with the PC-12.

It’s also an extremely safe aircraft. The PC-12 has been identified as the safest turboprop out there — single engine or twin. And as for operating economics, it’s got a Canadian-built Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6 engine on the front of it, and it sips fuel.

And then from a PC-24 standpoint, Pilatus originally went to their current owner base of PC-12 owners and said, “What would you like to see next?” And they said, “Well, maybe something that’s a little bit bigger, a little bit faster, a little bit longer range — but don’t lose those characteristics that have made the PC-12 so attractive and desirable.”

So, the ability to operate on unimproved strips out of the box for the PC-24… it’s unheard of in the jet world. It keeps that huge cargo door that goes into a 90-cubic-foot cargo area. And there’s a huge 500-cubic-foot living room for passenger travel, medevac, cargo, or any combination thereof. And safety-wise, I mean, it’s best in class.

A Pilatus PC-24 flying over the Daniel Boone National Forest. Mike Fizer Photo

Skies: Levaero recently delivered a new PC-12 NGX in Southern Ontario. How is the PC-12 being received in Canada overall?

S.K.: It’s safe to say that Canada said yes to the PC-12 many years ago. As of today, there are 108 Canadian-registered PC-12s operating in every province and territory of the country, in a variety of roles. It’s the versatility of the platform that is one of the reasons it’s the number one turboprop in the world.

Demand for the PC-12 NGX remains very strong, and the order book is solid for a couple of years out already. But again, demand for new aircraft is there, and demand for pre-owned aircraft is there as well.

Skies: What is your outlook for the PC-24 in Canada?

S.K.: Like I mentioned, the PC-24 was built on the foundation of the PC-12. It has that modern, advanced avionics suite, a huge cargo door, it’s got the ability to operate off strip; it can do most everything that the PC-12 can do, but it’s faster, it can go further, and its massive flat-floor cabin is unmatched. So the outlook is very much the same. I think we’re going to see a lot of overlap between types of operators, because the PC-24 and PC-12 are very complementary — they don’t compete with one another.

We found that in the beginning, most PC-24 customers were existing PC-12 owners, and they were adding to their fleets. To see people with both PC-12s and 24s in their fleet is actually very common. So the outlook for the PC-24 is strong, the order book is strong — just like the NGX. We see it as an airplane that fits very well in Canada.

Skies: What has Levaero found to be the most popular configuration for the PC-12 in Canada?

S.K.: Roughly 25 percent of PC-12s are corporately used in Canada; roughly 15 percent are used in the law enforcement role; another 15 percent in a dedicated medevac role; 10 percent for scheduled passenger and cargo service; and about 35 percent of PC-12s are operating in mixed roles. And I would say the mixed roles are usually corporate and one other role mentioned above. For example, a company that on Monday is using the aircraft to move employees between three different meetings in three different cities, and then bringing them home that same evening for dinner with their families, could be moving workers and machinery to one of their sites on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

Kuliavas said demand for the PC-12 in Canada remains very strong, and the order book is “solid” for the next few years. Jessica Ambats Photo

And there’s not as much involved in changing the cabin configuration as you might think, and that’s by design. Whether you’re in executive configuration or medevac configuration, everything attaches to tracks in the aircraft floor that run the entire length of the cabin, from the cargo area all the way up to the cockpit. Removal of seats in the PC-12 NGX doesn’t even require tooling anymore. You can swap out your interior and put in a medevac interior within hours. And the same goes for the PC-24.

Skies: Describe the company’s growth into other areas such as maintenance and charter and management services.

S.K.: Levaero is a growing company and it’s been a growing company since day one of existence. Whether it’s growing facilities — size and scale — or employee counts, or areas of business, the answer is yes to all of them. It presents challenges, but they’re fun challenges.

From a maintenance standpoint, our maintenance shop in the Pilatus world has established itself as a global leader. That’s evidenced by just looking at our hangar; it is not uncommon to see not a single Canadian-registered airplane in there on any given day. It’s often aircraft from other countries that have chosen to come to Levaero because of the quality of work that we do. It’s nice to see. And it’s not to say that Canadian customers don’t come to us, but our business is certainly not limited to just Canada.

Speaking from a charter management side, Levaero wholly owns Private Air, which is the charter and management division sister company. It operates completely separately. But that company has grown. There are now over 15 airplanes under management with Private Air, and the growth just continues. They most recently added another three airplanes under management.

Levaero is also an accredited member of the International Aircraft Dealers Association (IADA), a select group of only three to four percent of all aircraft brokers globally. So we help people buy and sell not only Pilatus aircraft, but all types of makes and models — whether that’s other turboprops, entry-level jets, large-cabin class aircraft, you name it.

Skies: Can you share any upcoming plans or announcements for Levaero?

S.K.: First of all, we are extremely proud of having served the aviation market for 25 years. We are proud of our staff and are honored that our customers continue to choose us for their aviation needs. We will be making several announcements in the coming months related to our continued growth and customer-focused approach.

Kuliavas said the PC-24 and PC-12 are very complementary and don’t compete with one another. It’s common to see operators with both types in their fleet. Photo courtesy of Levaero Aviation

It’s reflective of our growing customer base. For us, it’s all about customer service and the value that we can provide. When we evaluate growth opportunities, it’s about whether they will help our customer base in the end.

Since conducting this interview, Levaero Aviation has announced the opening of a new base at the Collingwood Regional Airport (CNY3). The facility is located in a new 18,000-square-foot hangar complex and will serve as an additional site for Levaero’s Maintenance and Aircraft Sales departments.

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