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Supermarine of Little Rock LLC, the general aviation service at the state's largest airport backed by two companies owned by the Stephens family, is being taken over by a Texarkana-based company that operates 13 other aviation service centers.

The anticipated change in ownership was disclosed Tuesday at a meeting of the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission, which approved Supermarine's request to assign its lease with Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field to TAC Air, a division of the Truman Arnold Cos.

The lease agreement also clarified the terms and conditions of the deal and limited the airport's financial exposure to future development on the Supermarine site, which is on the west side of the airport at 2201 Bond Ave.

Stephens Inc. and Stephens Group will continue to operate at its two hangars on the site, airport officials said. TAC Air will operate a third hangar and expand the property's aircraft ramp and vehicle parking to an unimproved area of the property, where there is space for additional hangars.

The change in ownership is pending.

"TAC Air has entered into an agreement to purchase Supermarine," David Edwards, marketing director for TAC Air, said in an interview. "The transaction has not closed yet."

Terms of the agreement won't be disclosed, according to a news release TAC Air issued after the meeting.

If the agreement is finalized, Truman Arnold Cos. will have come full circle with Clinton National. Nine years ago, it abruptly halted plans to build a $17 million general aviation facility -- or fixed-based operator, as it is known within the industry -- citing its inability to obtain an attractive lease.

At the time, the airport commission -- motivated by business aviation interests that wanted alternative hangar space and more competitive fuel prices -- was looking for a business to compete with Central Flying Service.

Central Flying Service, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, bills itself as Arkansas' oldest aviation business and the largest full-service fixed-base operator, with 21 buildings encompassing 550,000 square feet spread over 77 acres. Supermarine has three hangars totaling 129,045 square feet.

"I hope when my turn comes again, I get as good as deal as" TAC Air, Central Flying Service's president, Dick Holbert, said when asked for his reaction to the agreement the commission approved Tuesday.

The agreement contains a provision requiring the airport to pay $1 million toward the TAC Air ramp and parking improvements, which are estimated to cost $1.5 million to $2 million, according to airport documents.

That money will come from the remainder of a bond issue the airport used to acquire the property and pay for some site improvements for Supermarine. The agreement absolves the airport of any obligation to pay for further site improvements, which Holbert said relieved the airport of a "significant obligation."

At Clinton National, TAC Air said it plans to provide a "wide range of aviation support services, including fueling, hangar space, and ground handling, plus other services as part of the TAC Air network." TAC Air has two other Arkansas fixed-base operations -- at Fort Smith and Texarkana.

Greg Arnold, chief executive officer for the Truman Arnold Cos., who was at Tuesday's commission meeting, said the deal came together in less than two months.

"We've stayed in contact with them over the years," he said after the meeting. "Then a mutual business associate said Supermarine was looking to do something and it happened pretty quick." Some changes will come after the deal closes, which is expected to happen next month.

"There will be a name change, obviously," Arnold said. "There will be some operational things and then principally getting the ramp completed out front so it is more a door step to the community. And then obviously we're going to look at hangars down the road, probably relatively quickly. We're in the process of doing that as we speak."

Business on 07/16/2014

Print Headline: Airplane servicer buying LR firm


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