Headquartered in Jensen Beach with operation facilities in Palm City and employees across the state and around the country, STS Aviation Group—which employs more than 3,000 people all told—helps ensure that the aircraft of every major airline is engineered, maintained and repaired, staffed with its essential personnel, and supplied with parts it manufactures, distributes and sources.
So, if you’ve taken a flight, STS Aviation has played a direct role in the experience. We talked with Philip Jay “PJ” Anson Jr., company president who helmed STS Aviation’s services diversification and expansion, prompting rapid growth and renewed relevance at a pivotal point in both the company’s and country’s history.
PJ breaks down each service line, provides insights on key challenges and remembers the happy accident of landing in Martin County—which he rates among his favorite business decisions of all time.
Tell us about STS.
We’re a global aircraft engineering and maintenance company. Our customers are the airlines, which are worldwide, and we support them with maintenance, engineering and parts. When we first moved to Martin County, we were a mechanics staffing company. We’ve since expanded and have a warehouse in Palm City.
How did you come to select Martin County as your headquarters?
We had a business partner who lived in Sewall’s Point when we acquired the company in 1997. We were thinking of moving from Nashville and thought, we love fishing. We love the water, so we moved down here. It’s one of these things where all the customers we supply to are so scattered around the world, it didn’t really matter where we were.
It appears the high quality of life kept you here?
Yes. A long time back, I sat on the BDB board. I got involved in talking to CEOs who were interested in coming down here. I’d say, ‘Let me tell you why you want to be here. The quality of living, the schools, etc., is phenomenal.’ People come here and see what it is, and their families get to see it. In my experience, you’re not going to talk him into it just because it’s going to save him money. When it comes to moving his company, a CEO wants to know what his life is going to be like in the area.
Is your Palm City site at Sands Commerce Center?
Yes. We’re an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) distribution partner for components that go on Boeing and Airbus aircraft. Think about how many components are on an airplane. Millions of components. If one breaks, the airlines don’t go to Boeing, they go to the aftermarket.
No. 1, for Boeing it would be terribly expensive. And No. 2, it’s not under warranty—but mostly because Boeing doesn’t do that. There are four or five parts distribution companies—we’re one of them—and we supply parts to the world, so every airline that’s flying is considered one of our customers. That’s about 30 percent of our business.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’re seeing right now?
Supply chain issues. It’s absolutely massive. I’ve got airplanes that are sitting on the ground that can’t be flown. A lot of what we run into is, we’ve got 90 percent of what makes up the part, but we can’t get this washer or there’s something similar that we can’t source. There’s also a huge shortage of people to do the work. A lot of people left aviation to go into other non-aviation positions.
What are some of your other services?
We always say, ‘Staffing is in our DNA.’ When you’re staffing people, you get to meet all the management people that your staff serves. I always ask, ‘What are you pain points? What’s keeping you from growing?’ And it’s always, ‘We need more people.’ Especially in aviation, there’s a huge shortage of aircraft mechanics. Me, being very entrepreneurial, I started thinking, what if I could help with that? Now, we’re the largest provider of third-party line maintenance in North America—and we do it in Europe, too.
What’s the remaining bulk of your business?
The other 60 percent is our maintenance organization. We also do overhauls. If ever seen a show where they do an overhaul of an old car, well, we do that, to some degree, with aircraft. We’ve got a facility in Melbourne, Fla., and a couple in Europe where we do that.
You have a lot of diversifications of services.
We were once primarily a staffing business but 9/11 pretty much stopped our business. That forced the diversification. Everything shut down. People weren’t flying. We said, ‘We can’t have this happen to our company again.’ We said, ‘We have to diverse from just staffing.’ That was a pivotal time.
Crisis tends to reveal character and this massive pivot says a lot about the character of you and your team.
Thank you. I would say in every situation, in every crisis, there’s opportunity, but you just must be able to see it. As bad as COVID was, I would say as strange as COVID was, and it was even worse for the airline industry, we’re going to come out stronger than we were.
Why is that?
Through instituting remote working. We used to have 150 people in our office in Jensen Beach and now we have less than 20. We’ve seen upticks in productivity from people working from home. You think they might be playing with the kitten, but if you’ve got good employees and you’ve got good ways to track productivity, you could get more done. If you’re never breaking something down and rebuilding it, you’re never going to get any stronger.