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