A Hudgens has been in the cockpit flying Montgomery Aviation forward for more than 70 years. The Fixed Based Operator company that Bill Hudgens now owns was started by his father in 1945, making it the oldest FBO continually operated by its founding family in the state. That’s a long flight, requiring multiple course adjustments along the way, but Hudgens still loves the business and is in the process of expanding and upgrading Montgomery Aviation’s facilities.
What does Montgomery Aviation do?
We are a Fixed Base Operator for private aircraft located at Dannelly Field. We are basically a private aviation terminal and service station. We sell fuel, provide hangar space and storage for planes, a pilots’ lounge and other services, including maintenance and flight training through a company called Box Aviation, for aircraft owners, be they private or corporatate.
Give us a brief history of Montgomery Aviation.
My father and a few other investors founded it in 1945. They opened up using old surplus WWII planes. The company at that time offered charter flights, which we no longer do. My dad was also a flight instructor, and the company was a Piper distributor.
How long have you been in the business?
I was always out here as a kid and always knew I wanted to do this. I got an aviation management degree at Auburn University, and for a little polish, I went to Harvard Business School. After that, I did flight instruction, I worked in the shop and did a little bit of everything.
What has changed about the private aviation business in the last few decades?
The use of private aircraft took a huge hit around the 2008 financial crisis. Some of the area companies that had and used private aircraft at that time sold their planes and have not re-entered that market. We’re pumping less retail fuel than we did 10 years ago, and part of that is due to the above – fewer local owners – but the transient aircraft coming through has thinned out too. And, year over year, aircraft fuel efficiency improves. So there are some challenges.
How have you addressed them?
We have to pay close attention to service, and we do. Most everyone at our front desk and on the flight line has been here at least several years. They know what they are doing, and they enjoy what they are doing and that shows.
Since you bought Pensacola Aviation in 2012 and split your time between here and there, why stay in Montgomery?
It is home. We’ve put a lot of effort into this community, and we have a lot of sweat equity in this company that my father built. I’m very pleased to be in a position to continue that. And I’m proud of what Montgomery has become and is becoming. What we have accomplished is due to a lot of good people here, our Chamber and its leaders, Mayor Strange, County Commissioner Dean and many more. They have great vision and energy.
How important is the Montgomery Regional Airport to the city and its future?
It’s really crucial to so much here. We have a great relationship with the airport, and it serves as a gateway for tourists and folks doing business here. Without it, our economic development efforts would be stifled. Other efforts and industries like manufacturing and the new cyber initiatives are all supported by people traveling in and out of this airport. It’s the lifeline to continued progress.
What’s on the horizon?
We are breaking ground on a new lobby building this spring or summer and doing some pretty intense renovations on some of our hangars as well.
What’s on the horizon for the private aviation industry in general?
Everyone in our industry is excited about the impact of technology on aircraft and aircraft navigation.
What do you love about your job?
I’m a pilot myself, and flying is just neat stuff. I get to do that in this job. The sensation of flying grabbed me as a little kid, and I still love it just as much. I love the other people who fly too; we share a unique bond. The aviation community is full of interesting, nice people, and I get to work with them.
Numerous celebrities have come in and out of the capital city through Montgomery Aviation over the years, giving Hudgens the opportunity to see many famous faces and meet some of them, folks like Elvis, Oprah, several U.S. presidents and lots of college football coaches. But one star that really shines to Hudgens is Ed Long, a pilot who still holds the world record for logging the most flight time: 64,396 hours and 55 minutes in his lifetime. He flew out of Montgomery Aviation.