Access Aviation Project: Creating new pilots

The first step in helping someone get a pilot certificate is getting that person into an airplane. That’s the mission of the Aviation Access Project, an asset management company geared toward Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA).

According to CEO Rick Matthews, to attract wanna-be pilots to the “culture of aviation, we have to make aviation friendlier.”

“It begins by using terminology that someone with very little aviation experience will understand,” he said. “The non-flying public doesn’t understand what an FBO is, so instead of FBOs we have Flight Centers, which are activity hubs at the airport. Since most people don’t know what a CFI is, we use the term Flight Pro. Most people have heard the term Golf Pro or Tennis Pro, so they can understand that a Flight Pro is someone who will teach you to fly.”

Matthews notes that most flight schools focus on selling flight training to new clients. But that doesn’t stop a great number of these student pilots — up to 80% according to a study from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association —from dropping out.

“We are trying to reduce this number by having the client purchase a share in an airplane and teach that person to fly in their very own airplane,” he said. “It is very similar to how you sell a motorcycle or a boat. We call this ‘skin in the game,’ since having equity in the airplane is a strong incentive to complete training.”

The company encourages owners to acquire their sport pilot tickets, which takes less time and less money than a private ticket. If the client later wishes to add private pilot privileges, such as flying at night or in an airplane with more horsepower and more seats, the transition is relatively easily, he noted.

Established in January 2012, the Aviation Access Project offers fractional shares in LSAs, including the mid-wing Bristell and the high-wing Flight Design CTLS.

The cost of each share depends on which airplane the customer buys into. The older the airplane, the lower the price. A 1/16 share in an older airplane could be as low as $10,000, predicted Leonard Assante, vice president of communications.

“The high end will be about $26,000 for 1/8 of a new Bristell, plus a $200 month monthly maintenance fee,” he said. “The initial share purchase price includes flight training to sport pilot for new aviators or transition training for current pilots. The monthly maintenance fee covers all recurring costs, such as insurance, hangar, maintenance reserve, etc. These prices include 75 hours of flying time per year and there are no hourly fees. You just buy your own gas like any owner would.”

The company’s Flight Centers are franchises, which can begin with one airplane and one Flight Pro. The first Flight Center opened in Gallatin, Tenn. There are now more than 20 in development, as well as another 45 pending review, according to Matthews, who notes the project has attracted interest from people in 12 other countries besides the U.S.

“The beauty of the Aviation Access Project is that the Flight Centers can be set up anywhere,” said Assante. “We are working on establishing locations in several other states, including Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Alabama, and Colorado, this summer.”


Photo Courtesy Dan Johnson


  1. says

    80 percent drop out rate? Maybe if you count every person that has gone on every intro flight ever, and compare that to how many people finish their private. I have found that what keeps people flying is the encouragement of their flight instructors, keeping it fun, and then renting them airplanes to use afterwards for vacations, or if they want to, helping them buy an airplane. My flight school has been doing that for 30 years. no problem. There is no need to sucker them into spending 26k on a share of some aircraft they might not even like or enjoy flying.

  2. says

    @Robert Manahan. If what you are trying to say is that “Flight Pro” sounds foolish bordering on stupid then I agree with you. However, how do you come up with the “it’s all political” comment? Wages for new airline are ridiculously low, they are a discouraging and it will continue to stay as long as the new professional pilots want to “live the dream”. So the airlines simply take advantage of this. What is your solution?

  3. RudyH says

    First of all, for the renters, the operation will definitely enhance the aviator population IF it keeps functioning. Check it out! (There’s still hope for the insurance underwriters!!)

    • says

      Thanks Rudy!

      We’re working hard to make the concept of easier access to aircraft via the rental model a reality. We’re announcing 6 more bases around the U.S. this week at Oshkosh. We’ve had over 2,900 Pilots create profiles in our app to fly with OpenAirplane in the first month.

      There’s plenty of room under the tent for both ownership and new business models like collaborative consumption via rental. We’re fans of anything that helps the community build a stronger ecosystem. If we don’t all keep innovating, we’re screwed.

      I appreciate the vote of confidence. We’ll keep punching!

      ~ Rod Rakic
      co-founder, OpenAirplane

  4. Tom says

    Perhaps if we can make more of the public aware that it isn’t just a rich man’s hobby, then people will actually consider it. We own a 43-year-old Cessna, paying less than $300 a month to the bank. We are solidly in the middle-class, but we also don’t buy new cars every two years like some. Everyone in our small town acts like we must be millionaires since we own a plane, and it’s hard to make people realize that it isn’t out of reach if they are willing to skip eating out every meal, drive that car a few more years before getting a newer, used, vehicle instead of that new one, and plan beyond the end of the week instead of spending every cent they earn by the end of the pay-week. People will simply blank out and ignore anything about learning to fly if they think it doesn’t apply to them.

    • says

      Tom; Astute comment and your “point” is well taken! Flying is simply is about those who can AFFORD (cost/benefit) it regardless of social (demographic) class.
      Frankly, the problem as you surmised, IS public relations by the entire GA industry, no thanks to the “brain dead” folks at AOPA, GAMA, and yes, even EAA!
      The more “aggressive” pro-active smaller FBO/flight school might try an ad something like this: “You can OWN a nice “pre-owned” aircraft for the price of a NEW__________car and SELL it in ten years for what you paid for it”!
      I think you and other readers will agree your 1970 bird is a real world example of this!

    • Linda S. Berl says

      You said it exactly Tom. Most of us aren’t rich, we adjust other things in our lives so that we can have an airplane!

  5. says

    Passion or not, a managed fractional ownership model is more “user-oriented” than what is on airports currently. Those flying in the aircraft whether for certification, or just travelling are doing so in their own asset. The housing industry seems fairly cut and dry, 90% of people know that owning your own house at minimum usually recovers the living expense it cost to live there vs. paying rent. Aircraft ownership is no different, now add the power of volume and people everywhere can fly more, certify as a pilot cheaper, and get a whole lot more bang for their buck… Bravo AAP, keep up the good work!

    • says

      Jonny; The “volume” as you eluded, will be the “answer” to some degree and in theory your 100% correct to GA woes! That said, however, the demand for light/LSA aircraft will NEVER (reality) sorry bout that, be of a high volume since it (recreational GA) has been trying this economic model for decades to no avail – you would have better odds at solving “Rubic’s Curb”!
      On the AAP project – I’ll be convined, and if PROFITABLE, that it’s still around in 5-6 years or just another attempt with the premise that “cost” is the primary factor people don’t fly!

  6. says

    Although Mr. Matthews concept is well intended, it seems to me that the so called “busines model” is NOT to increase or attract the “virgin” (new) student ot future aviation consumer, but to REDUCE the fixed cost to primarly those who are already “sold” on flying. This, in my opinon, may keep the present pilot in the “loop”, but will have little effect on marketing to potential want-a-be aviators.
    That said, the “person” that can REALLY afford a pilot license and purchase an airplane simply would want the “exclusive” use of an aircraft.

    • says

      Why can’t we do both? There is no reason we can’t market to current and new pilots simultaneously (except for maybe funding).
      So far, we have not had a problem with exclusivity issues -aircraft are assets that are used very rarely, even by very active pilots. The average pilot averages around 50 hours/year, and there are 4300+ daylight hours in a year. Conflicts will be rare.

  7. says

    Interesting comments. Of course, as a member of AAP I am biased, but over the last 1.5 years, I have learned about how the aviation community perceives organizations like us. Some embrace us as a possible way out of the mess our industry finds itself in. Not enough pilots, too expensive. Let’s change the economies of scale to our favor! Others wonder about us -how can “fractional” (we prefer “shared”) help? What’s the catch? How much money are YOU making? (Not alot, I promise.)

    Two things:
    1) Nothing but proven success will sway the doubters. Give us time, watch us grow. Then judge. Give us a year.
    2) Remember, our primary market, our main audience is NOT the current aviation community, it is not the readers of GAN. Is the EAA-estimated MILLIONS of people who would be interested in getting into aviation if they had the time, the money and the knowledge. Our model focuses on those people. We remove the hassles, increase the friendliness, build a community, and lower the costs (by ALOT!). We think NEW pilots -new pilot-owners- are the key to saving GA. Let’s get more people flying more planes more hours and watch costs go down and fun go up.

    Aviation is a passion-based business. We help people “Own the Passion of Flying” by following one simple model: “We manage, you fly, that’s it.”

    Thanks everyone!

  8. says

    We don’t want people to get the impression from the article that LSA is all we provide shared ownership in. We have five levels of single-engined ownership STARTING with light sport, up to the Cirrus SR-22 and Cessna 206 realm.

    Thank you, Meg, for a well-written article.

  9. says

    This is a fantastic business model! A customer centric focus is going to accelerate Aviation Access Project’s growth. I’m pumped to get to know Rick soon and find out more about the business.

    Great article Meg!

  10. says

    Mr. Matthews needs to determine why the AOPA survey ‘new student’ drop-out rate is an alarming 80%. I believe he will discover it is the high cost related to aircraft rental and CFI hourly rates. Attempting to factor in fractional aircraft ownership will only increase student pilot drop out. The challenge is to reduce the overall cost of aircraft operation and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

    • says

      Disagreed. We don’t need to determine WHY the AOPA report reflects an 80% dropout rate; it is already spelled in great detail. There are many determinants that contribute to the problem. Amazingly our team of founders determined that with a couple of fundamental changes in the SYSTEM and CULTURE, most all of these issues can be corrected over time, returning the industry to stability.

      Second statement – well, we have done that already. It’s part of the basis for the AAP’s existence. Your third statement is confusing. Fractional ownership lowers cost for EVERYONE…PLUS, Sir, the Customer [we don’t use the term Student] has something to show for his investment, whereas rental provides nothing but numbers in a logbook. Your last statement….well, there are some things going on may not be aware of. It IS happening anytime soon. And it will continue – one person, one plane, one airport at a time. With your support, and a conscious decision to disregard to old ways which have failed us, and embrace an all new to do this business, you can be a part of the Movement, too.

  11. Linda S. Berl says

    Most pilots aren’t flying 75 hours a year anymore.
    This sounds lie a great way to get people interested long-term. I hope it is successful.
    PS. The term “Flight Pro” is silly. I think most non aviators know what a flight instructor is. I think changing the names for all these things is “dumbing down” their training, and I think long term is a bad idea. You are there to educate them…

    • says

      Hi Linda, and thank you.

      Yes the terminology is different. We thought about this for a LONG time before we imp-lemented. We found Flight Pro to not be silly, but to be appropriate. We had to, by necessity since nobody else out there in the idustry would, measure every possibility up against the 80% dropout number. We took every sacred cow in the industry and dissected it – even t5hings the AOPA report did NOT cover.

      There is no dumbing down. On the contrary, in our design it elevates the common denominator. It is elevating prestige and professionalism the components of the industry. This MUST be done to attract the hundreds of thousands we need to raise the numbers.

      Yes we are there to educate them – just not in a way and culture that accepts an 80% dropout rate. Everybody in ever location loves the new terminology – especially the Customers we survey.

      Yes we know this is a new way. But it is a new era. The old ways have killed off the industry. Too must universal emphasis on selling flight training to support the flight training industry, instead of selling airplanes [or shares] which takes care of everything else.

      For the new customers we are attracting, the education process is simple. What we’re worried about is educating the existing industry insiders that is deeply embedded in a process that has failed [80%].

      • Linda S. Berl says

        Rick, thank you for your response. Please know that I totally applaud your efforts to get more people interested in getting their license, and continuing to fly afterward. At this point in our history, you are right that the current strategy is obviously not working. Best wishes in your endeavor…

        • Robert Manahan says

          I like the ideas of getting people into flying. As I’m currently at 5 hours (only, ugh), may i have an opinion. The terminology change concept is ridiculous – adding more terms to already full vocabulary for aspiring pilots is just plain wrong. So, student A is trained using terms like CFI, then goes somewhere else and they use FlightPro? What the heck. How does the working CFI like to be renamed to something as simple as a GolfPro. First of all, FlightPro (as per Tennis & Golf) implies they have mastered flight – HA! Give me a break – I know that any decent CFI will argue that they are far from mastery. My opinion on that.

          Next, plane ownership as part of flying costs and then indicating this is not a rich-mans game – HA! You want to introduce costs of owning a plane ALONG with all the instructor time, flying time, products (headsets, etc). Seems absurd that we, as aspiring pilots, wouldn’t be able to modularize our purchases or path. Do any of these ideas follow the concept of safety and learning curves and flying dynamics? Again, my opinion but seems both contradictory and foolish.

          Now, career paths of pilots who have struggled for 5 years of training and getting their hours in and doing pennance in aviation currently SUCK. Watch any seasoned airline pilot and they state that starting salaries are TERRIBLE yet the airlines allow (nay EXPECT) these low-paid, highly training professionals to keep people ALIVE in the air. Where is the motion for that. I have worked in IT for about 20 years and I made more money in the 5 years after college than most Airline pilots of 15-20 years. All things being equal.

          The MEDIA only shows airline failures and crashes – but not the struggles and successes of amazing pilots.

          It’s all political and i’m tired of it. I won’t stop flying and I’m appalled at what i’ve seen in this industry thus far. Let’s focus on the right things – and definitely not “terminology” for lay people, BLAH!

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