LR fly­ing ser­vice ar­riv­ing at mile­stone

78 years in air, pi­lot in­struc­tion still Cen­tral fo­cus

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - NOEL OMAN

Cen­tral Fly­ing Ser­vice has had many roles in gen­eral avi­a­tion dur­ing its 78 years at the state’s largest air­port.

Founded on the cusp of World War II to train civil­ian pi­lots, the gen­eral avi­a­tion ser­vice com­pany based at Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton Na­tional Air­port/Adams Field in Lit­tle Rock for years was the go-to place for fuel and han­gar space for lo­cal and tran­sient pri­vate and busi­ness air­craft.

Cen­tral also evolved to of­fer an as­sort­ment of other ad­vanced ser­vices for gen­eral avi­a­tion air­craft: Need a strut fixed, the in­te­rior up­graded, a new nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, an en­gine over­haul or a new coat of paint? Check.

Or per­haps char­ter one of its air­craft to some­one who wants to get some­place with­out the has­sles of com­mer­cial air­line flights? Check again.

But Dick Hol­bert, Cen­tral’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive

of­fi­cer, said that the one con­stant since its found­ing in 1939 re­mains in­te­gral to the com­pany’s suc­cess now: Teach­ing some­one how to fly.

“There’s a lot of syn­ergy

with flight train­ing,” he said. “We grow a lot of our pi­lots. They be­come our rental cus­tomers, po­ten­tial cus­tomers to buy an air­plane.”

The train­ing fleet has to be main­tained, which al­lows Cen­tral to help man­age the main­te­nance de­part­ment’s flow of air­craft work.

The new pi­lots the com-

● pany pro­duces of­ten be­come flight in­struc­tors and some­times com­pany or con­tract pi­lots for Cen­tral’s fleet of char­ter air­craft. The flight school also builds loy­alty in pi­lots who re­ceived their train­ing at Cen­tral and make rec­om­men­da­tions to oth­ers.

“Each part of our busi­ness is in the ser­vice of other busi­ness,” Hol­bert said.

That co­op­er­a­tion has be­come even more im­por­tant once Cen­tral sold off its fuel, han­gar and line busi­ness to TAC Air a cou­ple of years ago.

The en­dur­ing suc­cess will be re­flected in a mile­stone the flight train­ing di­vi­sion may reach as soon as this week: 475,000 flight train­ing hours, a thresh­old that wouldn’t be too dif­fi­cult for an avi­a­tion uni­ver­sity such as Em­bry-Rid­dle to achieve. But it stands as a re­mark­able achieve­ment for a fam­ily-owned busi­ness though it likes to bill it­self as the largest and old­est gen­eral avi­a­tion busi­ness in the re­gion.

“It’s a large num­ber be­cause we’ve been at it since 1939,” Hol­bert said. “It’s not the largest

num­ber. Em­bry Rid­dle, Lord knows how many hours they’ve got. But it would be a mile­stone for a state flight school like us.”

So re­mark­able that the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Na­tional Air Trans­porta­tion As­so­ci­a­tion are sched­uled to mark Cen­tral’s mile­stone

at 10 a.m. Wed­nes­day on the ramp at the com­pany’s head­quar­ters at 2301 Crisp Drive. The event will in­clude a cer­e­mo­nial train­ing flight.

The 475,000 hours is as close to an ac­cu­rate ac­count­ing of the num­ber of hours the pro­pel­lers on Cen­tral’s fleet of train­ing air­craft have

been turn­ing since Cen­tral was es­tab­lished by Hol­bert’s fa­ther, Claud, to be­gin teach­ing peo­ple how to fly as part of the fed­eral Civil­ian Pi­lot Train­ing Pro­gram.

The pro­gram be­gan os­ten­si­bly as an ini­tia­tive to in­crease the num­ber of civil­ian pi­lots in the United States, but it also had a mil­i­tary pre­pared­ness com­po­nent in the years be­fore World War II.

All that his­tory isn’t on the minds of Kris­tine Beard or Ri­card Re­quena. Both are among the more than 50 stu­dents en­rolled in Cen­tral’s flight train­ing pro­gram, which can be tai­lored to a stu­dent’s goals, work sched­ule or fi­nan­cial abil­ity, said Cal Freeney, the com­pany’s flight train­ing di­rec­tor.

Beard, 31, is a speech ther­a­pist who works part of the year in Alaska, where bush fly­ing is the pri­mary mode of trans­porta­tion. She wants to be able to fly her­self to the places she needs to go.

Re­quena, 27, is a me­chan­i­cal engi­neer who is work­ing full­time on ob­tain­ing the nec­es­sary ar­ray of li­censes and ratings to be­come a pro­fes­sional air trans­port pi­lot.

Both re­ceived their pri­vate

pi­lot li­censes at Cen­tral and are work­ing on their in­stru­ment rat­ing, which would al­low them to fly with­out vis­ual ref­er­ences to the hori­zon. Us­ing only the air­craft in­stru­ments to fly al­lows pi­lots to fly in the clouds or in weather in which the vis­i­bil­ity or ceil­ing is too low to fly us­ing vis­ual ref­er­ences.

Both say Cen­tral has fit them per­fectly.

The com­pany’s staff was ex­cited when Beard said she ap­proached them in De­cem­ber 2015 and said she had five weeks to ob­tain her pri­vate pi­lot’s li­cense be­fore she had to re­turn to Alaska.

“They said, ‘All right, let’s do this,’” Beard re­called. “They have been very ac­com­mo­dat­ing.”

The one hangup about flight train­ing? “It’s very ex­pen­sive,” she said.

The cost to ob­tain a pri­vate pi­lot's li­cense is typ­i­cally about $ 12,000, in­clud­ing air­craft rental, ground school and the in­struc­tor, Hol­bert said.

Re­quena, who got his pri­vate pi­lots li­cense in May, is im­mersed in flight train­ing, mak­ing it his full-time oc­cu­pa­tion. He took the writ­ten test for his in­stru­ment rat­ing last week and hopes to be­gin train­ing

for his com­mer­cial pi­lot’s li­cense this fall.

Re­quena said he has al­ways wanted to fly, but thought the only op­tion was through the mil­i­tary. But when he saw a video on ac­ro­batic fly­ing, he re­searched his op­tions fur­ther be­fore set­tling on Cen­tral ver­sus more fo­cused civil­ian train­ing in what are known as “pi­lot mills,” schools that ad­ver­tise they can train pi­lots quickly through the var­i­ous li­censes and ratings.

“The pi­lot mills teach you the tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments of fly­ing,” or what Re­quena said is the “bare min­i­mum. “Cen­tral teaches you how to fly, the real skill,” he said.

Just as Cen­tral stu­dents are a mixed bag with dif­fer­ent as­pi­ra­tions, so to are the com­pany’s sta­ble of nine flight in­struc­tors, who range from a veteran pi­lot who flew C-130 trans­port air­craft for the mil­i­tary to young in­struc­tors us­ing the train­ing to help build enough air time to qual­ify as a cor­po­rate or air­line pi­lot, ac­cord­ing to Cal Freeney, Cen­tral’s flight train­ing di­rec­tor.

“They have all dif­fer­ent back­grounds,” Re­quena said. “And they are al­ways will­ing to work with you.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/THOMAS METTHE

Flight in­struc­tor Jeff Har­less (left) and stu­dent Grace Har­ri­son, 19, fin­ish pre-flights checks be­fore a train­ing flight Thurs­day at Cen­tral Fly­ing Ser­vice. A cer­e­mony Wed­nes­day will mark 475,000 flight train­ing hours com­pleted by Cen­tral Fly­ing Ser­vice’s flight train­ing di­vi­sion.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/THOMAS METTHE

Stu­dent Grace Har­ri­son goes through a pre-flight check of an air­plane at Cen­tral Fly­ing Ser­vice on Thurs­day.

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