Flying Strong with Covington Aircraft
Last summer, Mother Nature was not kind to Oklahoma. Temperature records were broken throughout the state, and most of Oklahoma experienced exceptional to severe drought. The scorching heat left wheat fields brown and reservoirs dry. Sitting in the midst of the dusty landscape, about 100 miles east of Oklahoma City in the little town of Okmulgee, is Covington Aircraft—an oasis where God is working through His Christian business. The obvious question: “Why Okmulgee?” Paul Abbott of Covington Aircraft answered with a smile. “It used to be a running joke that we ended up in Okmulgee when we ran out of gas money coming home from college.”
Taking a Leap of Faith
That was 1968. Paul Abbott graduated from LeTourneau College with a degree in aviation technology and a heart for the missions. He took a job running the maintenance operations for a small mission organization at the airport in Okmulgee. It was a leap of faith, because the organization wasn’t paying anything. To support his young family, wife Betty and infant son Luke, Paul worked part time refueling aircraft, sweeping the hanger and mowing the grass, making about $45 a week with no benefits.
In 1975, when Bob Covington, founder of Covington Aircraft, left the company and moved to Alabama to teach in a Bible school, Paul Abbott took another leap of faith, by becoming part owner and taking over as the leader of the company. It was a time when the country was in the middle of a nationwide gas shortage. In addition to long lines of cars waiting to fuel up at gas stations, aviation was adversely affected by the fuel shortage.
Recalling those early years, Paul Abbott said, “When Betty and I purchased the business, there weren’t any engine orders, but there were a lot of bills to pay. This taught us to really depend on God, because we knew we could not do it on our own. The lessons we learned during that time helped us in future years whenever lean times came. We knew that God would provide as long as we did things His way.”
Standing on God’s Promise
While Covington Aircraft has certainly prospered over the years, their character has been shaped by the lean times of those early years. They have survived by standing on the promise of Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Paul Abbott said that when you recognize that God owns it all, you are challenged to become a better manager. “When times are tough or obstacles are great, I rely on Him and ask for wisdom to manage in a way that brings Him honor and glory.”
Paul and Betty Abbott have been rewarded for their stewardship. Today, Covington Aircraft is a world-leading aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul facility specializing in Pratt & Whitney radial (vintage, war bird-type) and turbine (contemporary jet) engines. The company also installs and tests engines in addition to providing parts to customers all over the world. Much of the company’s business falls into three categories: corporate aircraft, agricultural and missionary/humanitarian. With 60 people in two locations, Covington Aircraft exports nearly one half of its engines out of the country. It is an industry leader and enjoys a reputation for quality, service and customer relations.
“When Betty and I took over Covington Aircraft Engines many years ago, we followed in the previous owner’s footsteps by dedicating this business and the influences it would have to the Lord.” Paul said, and without hesitation he added, “The success of the company is the result of the foundational commitment that still guides the family today.”
Leaving a Lasting Legacy
The Abbott’s sons, Luke and Aaron, are now in charge of the day-to-day operations at Covington. Luke, the oldest, is in charge of the technical operations, while his younger brother Aaron is in charge of production operations.
Aaron Abbott affirmed, “My brother and sister and I strive to live up to the godly example that our parents laid out for us. We are committed to making sure our core values – Integrity, Dependability, Affordability and Quality – never change.”
Aaron added, “We view our core values as a stake in the ground that helps us stay focused. Our family knows that these values are what the company was founded upon and that which God has blessed.”
Their continued commitment to the Lord is evidenced by the company’s culture. From the administration and sales office to the shop floor, employees are engaged and enjoy what they do. The strength of that culture is due, in large part, to a clearly cast vision. “Everyone knows what the Abbott family stands for,” said Aaron. You won’t find any pictures of scantily clad women on the toolboxes, just pictures of family members. “Our rule of thumb is this: if it’s something that we wouldn’t want our mother or our daughter to see, it doesn’t belong here.”
A Heart for Missions
As a young man, Paul Abbott thought he might want to be a missionary, but through prayer and wise counsel, he and his wife discerned God’s calling was to help those on the mission field instead of working in the field themselves. Achieving a perfect combination of their life passions, the Abbotts dedicated their love of aircraft and their commitment to Christ to furthering the work of the Lord by partnering with many individuals and missions organizations, providing them the maintenance, repair and parts support necessary when utilizing aircraft to spread the gospel.
Just as God answered the prayer of Jabez, He multiplied the impact Paul and his wife would have had, had they gone into the missions directly. The more they gave, the more they grew.
"Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request."1 Chronicles 4:10
They now serve the needs of Mission Aviation by providing warranty support, customer support programs, rental engines, AOG (Aircraft on Ground) support and many other services. They are continually looking for new partnerships with missions organizations to serve others in their commitment to spreading the gospel.
The Abbotts’ passion for missions has also been handed down to their sons.
“In 2011, God allowed me to fulfill a lifelong dream,” Luke Abbott shared. “I have wanted to be a missionary pilot for as long as I can remember but have never had a chance to do so. Mission Aviation Fellowship allowed me the opportunity to work with them as a pilot mechanic in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. I flew a variety of flights from Kinshasa out to the surrounding villages carrying missionaries, pastors, doctors, and an assortment of cargo, including bicycles, chickens and even a live crocodile. Many of the flights were to help try to stop a cholera epidemic that was working its way down the Congo River.”
“While in the DRC, my family spent their time homeschooling and working with a local orphanage. It was amazing to see my wife and kids working with the Congolese orphans. This opportunity gave me an even greater respect for the men and women that dedicate their lives to serving God in other countries.”
The Abbott’s missionary work does not just take place half way around the world. Just as important, the Abbotts have recognized their ministry in the marketplace. They have a strong statement of faith on their website, they retained a corporate chaplain, and they offer a weekly devotional attended by many employees on company time.
Recognized Leaders in the Industry
The results are recognized in the marketplace. Pratt & Whitney Canada named Covington their exclusive Agricultural Service Center, making them part of the select group of P&W Canada Distributors and Designated Overhaul Facility network. But success at Covington isn’t just measured numerically. It is also measured by influence. Aaron shared, “The ultimate measure is whether or not we have held up our Christian business testimony in a way that influences other businesses to do likewise.”
Aaron recognizes that the responsibility of taking Covington into the future is a daunting one. He said, “God has blessed the company and the faithfulness of my parents and the faithfulness of the workers.
"Now that my brother and I have taken over as leaders of the company, there is a huge sense of responsibility to continue the commitments my parents made back in the seventies. If things go downhill, it’s pretty easy to figure out what happened when you are the only thing that changed."Aaron Abbott
Nevertheless after celebrating 40 years as a company, they believe the best is ahead for the aviation industry and Covington Aircraft.
By: Lisa Huetteman
Lisa Huetteman is Co-founder of Black Diamond Associates, Executive Coach, Speaker and Author of the book: The Value of Core Values: Five Keys to Success through Values-Centered Leadership.Read More Articles by Lisa Huetteman