Patrick Lambert didn’t know what to expect when he landed at the Ardmore Executive Airport and taxied up to KMA Aviation. What he discovered was an oasis, made by pilots for pilots.
Two years ago, Lambert flew his Cessna 150 cross-country during the dog days of summer. The taxing trip required several stops at unfamiliar fixed base operators (FBO), including a 10 p.m. landing in Ardmore, Okla.
When he arrived at KMA, he found a squeaky clean FBO accessible by code 24/7, the ability to fuel overnight, a hot shower and much-needed supplies at his fingertips. He was amazed. After his trip, Lambert posted comments on AirNav.com, saying, “The hospitality of the owners was the epitome of Southern hospitality meeting aviation camaraderie. … KMA is the best FBO I have ever been to and is tailored perfectly for (general aviators).”
KMA was founded by Rusty Noble, Darrell Mink and Mark Ellis, who have a combined 56 years of flying experience. This trio of Ardmore aviators joined forces to open KMA (which stands for “Keeping More Aviators” flying) in 2010 when local fuel prices became uncompetitive. At the time, area pilots could fly 30 minutes south and save as much as $1.80 a gallon.
“Local fuel prices at that time were outrageous,” Darrell Mink said. “The area was losing out to other airports. The three of us got together with the idea of making local fuel prices competitive again so that we could keep our local pilots flying.”
KMA Aviation opened in September 2010 as a self-serve aviation fuel farm. The new KMA fuel prices were indeed regionally competitive, which pushed other local suppliers to match the price. The move resulted in manageable fuel prices across the board and increased traffic to the region from both local and national aviators.
“We were and still are extremely competitive when it comes to fuel prices, compared both regionally and nationally,” Mark Ellis said. “Our whole purpose in founding KMA was to make flying affordable for all pilots and to keep those pilots flying. And the increased traffic helps our local economy.”
After just three short years, KMA is now serving 120 pilots annually. The amenities and the good old-fashioned service have earned KMA an avid fan club.
“The harsh reality is that there are two types of folks in the aviation business – those who want to take advantage of the unwary and those who bend over backwards to help out,” said Clayton McMartin on AirNav.com. “The folks who run KMA are clearly the good guys and doing all they can to keep us all flying.”
So what makes KMA so loved? Beyond the competitive fuel prices, KMA offers one of the cleanest and newest FBOs in the region, including a private bathroom with shower, a living area, air conditioning/heating and cable TV. Pilots can also purchase oil, oil filters and cold drinks, all by just leaving a little money in a coffee can on the counter.
“We still believe in the honor system,” said Rusty Noble, who has been flying since 1978. “It’s unheard of nowadays. Children come in with their parents, and they can’t understand just putting money in the coffee can. But this is part of pilot camaraderie. That’s what we’re here for.”
"More than supplies and a nice place to kick back and relax, the KMA crew is there to lend a helping hand to their clients. They offer a courtesy car for pilots who need to head into Ardmore, and multiple times, they have helped aviators overcome mechanical difficulties and even arranged to move planes into hangars during adverse weather conditions. Whatever the problem, all three men agree – they will find a solution."
“When they come here, we go the extra mile to help them,” Noble said. “We understand what it is like to be out there. We’re here for them. We’re pilots helping pilots.”