For nearly 50 years, Carver Aero operated as a small legacy aviation company owned by a family whose name is synonymous with their home state of Iowa. But more than three years ago, the company – founded by the late Roy Carver Sr. – was sold to aviation enthusiasts Inga Carus and Peter Limberger, the […]
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For nearly 50 years, Carver Aero operated as a small legacy aviation company owned by a family whose name is synonymous with their home state of Iowa.But more than three years ago, the company – founded by the late Roy Carver Sr. – was sold to aviation enthusiasts Inga Carus and Peter Limberger, the wife-husband duo behind CL Enterprises (CLE) of Peru, Illinois.In the short time they have owned it, the new owners have expanded Carver Aero from its two original eastern Iowa locations in Davenport and Muscatine into a network of full-service Fixed-Base Operators (FBO). Through a series of other acquisitions, the aviation company now includes six FBOs and seven locations scattered across the Midwest. In fact, in a move reflective of the power and propulsion of its growth plans, Carver Aero officially rebranded itself under a new company name: revv aviation. The new name, which was rolled out Sunday, May 1, honors the aviation pioneers on whose shoulders the company stands and shows how it is roaring ahead – revving its engine, if you will.“We are a family legacy-born aviation company,” Guy Lieser, the CEO of what is now revv aviation, told the QCBJ. “We are not an investment company buying up aviation companies and having to learn how to run aviation companies.” The network of FBO locations that now make up revv collectively represent more than 250 years of combined aviation experience, Mr. Lieser said.
CLE’s aviation entrance
While CLE has many business interests and enterprises over several industries, the Carver Aero acquisition landed the entrepreneurial couple in the aviation business. “Both Inga and I are passionate aviators and decided in 2019 to expand our business holdings to build a network of full-service FBOs, starting in the Midwest,” Mr. Limberger said in a news release. Their legacy business was created by Ms. Carus’ grandfather in 1915 in LaSalle, Illinois. He founded Carus Chemical. “For the past 10 years, CLE has invested and built a farming business, a brewery, several restaurants, a wood products company that produces affordable, yet high-end kitchen, bath and home cabinetry,” Mr. Limberger added. In addition, CLE has developed several transformational downtown real estate projects in Western Illinois including retail, apartments and hotels.
FBO network grows
Mr. Lieser, a pilot and certified flight instructor, has spent his whole working career in aviation including serving in the U.S. Air Force, working as an air traffic controller with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and a side career of buying and selling planes. He joined Carver Aero as CLE closed on the deal Dec. 31, 2019. At the time, Carver Aero had 43 employees who provided charter services, fueling, aircraft maintenance and storage and a flight school, Mr. Lieser recalled. Today, the network is more than 200 employees strong across a total of seven locations and has a fleet of more than 50 aircraft. It also is in the hiring mode working to recruit more pilots, mechanics and technicians. “Peter’s (Mr. Limberger) goal was to grow the company and have a Midwest-based operation and multiple operations,” said Mr. Lieser, who is guiding the growth strategy for revv. In addition to purchasing the two Carver Aero FBO locations – owned the past 35 years by Roy Carver Jr. – Mr. Lieser’s company has since acquired these FBOs that now make up revv aviation:
The former Lumanair in Aurora, Illinois, owned by Bob and Mike Luman and their parents for more than 60 years. Acquired in August, 2021.
The former Advanced Air, Council Bluffs, Iowa, owned by Dan Smith and then his daughter Lisa LaMantia for 32 years. Acquired in March 2021.
The former Janesville Jet Center, Janesville, Wisconsin, previously owned by Steven King and his family. Acquired in July 2021.
Assumed operations of the FBO at Schaumburg Regional Airport, Schaumburg, Illinois, in February 2022.
Revv also acquired Aurora-based ATS Illinois, an airplane and power plant repair shop for piston, turboprop and turbojet aircraft. It was owned for more than 30 years by Mark McKinney, who continues to manage the shop. It also opened a new flight school in February 2022 in Sioux City, Iowa, where revv aviation is not the FBO but operates the school and charter services.
Big things, small towns
“We approached these acquisitions opportunistically,” Mr. Lieser said in an interview with the QCBJ. “If it fits our model, it’s worth considering. If it doesn’t, we don’t bother with it.” But much like CLE, revv aviation aligns with the mantra: “big things in small towns.” Mr. Lieser said, “We’re looking to reinvigorate these small town airports.” “A lot of private equity companies have come in and bought up all (the assets) they thought of as value and then closed down the operation,” he said. “We go into these small communities and ask ‘where the airport is’ and they (the residents) point to the bigger (nearby) community” and don’t recognize their own airport as an asset. “We’re reawakening them and reintroducing them to their local airports.” Mr. Lieser added that “we’re getting calls virtually every day” from other aviation companies nationwide looking to sell. “We’re being very strategic and want to stay in our lane. We don’t want to compete with the billion-dollar companies.” Revv has four or five other locations on its radar in the Midwest and beyond including Ohio, Alabama and in the West. In fact, the company is also looking at taking over FBO operations in Huron, South Dakota, in late May or early June.While he is not dismissing a nationwide expansion, he added “We don’t want to lose the character of the company, we’re (a group of) small to medium-size companies. We like family businesses – ones where they’ve owned it three, four or five decades and the family doesn’t want to do it and are looking to retire.” Blending the individual companies into one has had its challenges, but the result has created a new company that is stronger, more efficient and thanks to its CLE parent company, has more access to capital.
Other growth plans
Part of revv’s business plan also calls for growing its other aviation services including its charter services, fuel services and its flight school. Chief Pilot Erik McDonough, an eight-year veteran of Carver Aero, actually got his start “pumping gas” at the Muscatine Municipal Airport, where Carver operated the FBO. After completing his flight training and becoming a certified flight trainer, Mr. McDonough later returned “to Carver to grow my career.” Today, he is responsible for revv’s charter operations, which are headquartered at the Davenport Municipal Airport but provide charter services across the network. He oversees a staff of about 47 employees including nine charter pilots as well as ground support personnel, administration and customer service representatives. His duties also include ensuring the company is in FAA compliance. “As we expand, I’ll be overseeing the satellite positions as well,” said Mr. McDonough, who lives in Bettendorf. Despite its ambitious growth plans, revv faces the same challenges as the rest of the aviation industry including a severe shortage of pilots and other aviation staff. Roderick Kelly, revv aviation’s marketing director, said there is growing demand for the other support professionals such as aviation technicians and maintenance staff. “They all have a really important role in getting the planes up and down safely,” he said. Mr. McDonough said the cost to become a pilot as well as the time commitment involved is a deterrent for many considering career options. That is why revv is committed to providing its own flight training program – to develop its own pipeline. “We have three or four pilots who were our flight instructors who now are our charter pilots,” Mr. McDonough said.
New brand, old traditions
Company leaders all recognize that the task moving forward is for revv to re-establish its airport operations as epicenters for community members and families to visit, students to learn to fly, future employees to become trained and as a hub for local business travelers looking to get more business done in less time. “We believe the skies are for everyone and that more people should have access to flying at its best,” Mr. Lieser said. “We’ve rebranded Carver Aero to revv but will retain the Midwestern values and commitments to our personal aviator customers at each of our locations.” The revv aviation name was selected from more than 100 ideas submitted by the company’s employees during several meetings over six weeks at Carver Aero’s facility in Davenport. “It embodies all the senses,” said Mr. Kelly, who is leading the re-branding effort. “You can smell it, feel the vibration, hear it and taste the jet fuel.” The name revv aviation also is all lowercase on purpose, he said, adding “because it’s all about you, the customers, and not about us.” Mr. Kelly said other efforts are underway to promote the original legacy owners at their respective locations and across the company including a new legacy book now being printed. In addition, each facility will eventually have a legacy wall that chronicles all its legacy aviators.He hopes revv’s rebranding and efforts to raise awareness of aviation will also help ignite a whole new generation of aviators. The company has plans to partner with community colleges, high schools and youth groups to raise the profile of aviation careers. But it also has plans to make all its locations more visitor friendly by offering new amenities that will attract the public to the airfield such as upscale restaurants, children’s playgrounds and observation areas “where they can watch the planes take off,” Mr. Kelly said. “We want to bring back the wonder, that whole awe we used to have of aviation.” The revv story, he said, involves aviation pioneers like Roy Carver Sr., Roy Carver Jr., and the other FBO families. “These are the pioneers who took us through the first 100 years,” he explained. “Peter (Limberger) wants to take us through the next 100 years.”