California Flying

Tale of two flight schools

March 1, 2002

The awful events of September 11, 2001, hammered the airline industry. Estimates say that 100,000 airline employees have been laid off in the past six months. Before that fateful day airlines were hiring pilots in record numbers. Caught between the edges of this whipsaw are two new flight schools located in the central coast region of California.

PCF (I'll tell you what the letters stand for later) Aviation in San Luis Obispo and Central Coast Air Service Inc. in Paso Robles are recent entries into the world of flight training. What sets them apart from other flight schools located in the small towns along Highway 101 is that they both have applied for, and expect to receive, FAA Part 141 authorizations very soon.

Pigs Can Fly Aviation

John Glau and his partners Jim Willis and Andy Rasmussen are deputy sheriffs for San Luis Obispo County. Late last year they joined with Pat Mallon, a radio syndication business owner, and Lee Jaykell, an experienced flight instructor and community college instructor, to buy Executive Aero Club at San Luis Obispo County-McChesney Field.

One of the first orders of business was a new name. Cops, yeah! Flying, yeah! How about Pigs Can Fly Aviation? They liked it, and they promptly commissioned a local graphic artist to create a happy flying pig for their company logo.

A flight school — are you out of your mind?

Almost everyone who has spent any time around aviation has heard the old joke about making a small fortune in aviation — the only sure method is to start with a large fortune. So why would five grown men, with no experience in running a flight school, decide to start one?

"We got into this because we love to fly; it's got nothing to do with money — if it was about money, we wouldn't have bought a flight school," says Glau. There's actually more behind the decision than the love of flying. Glau again: "We already owned three of the airplanes that were used in the aero club. When a local single-pilot air charter operator moved up from a Seneca III to a Cessna 441 Conquest, we realized that there wasn't anyone providing charter services locally with Seneca-sized airplanes. So we bought the Seneca and have applied for a Part 135 air charter certificate." Glau continues, "We had been talking about a charter service, but the events of September 11 sped things up — all the air taxis are overwhelmed so we moved faster."

While awaiting their charter certificate, all five owners have been shining up the office and upgrading their airplanes. "We want to provide nice airplanes, and keep them nice," says Willis. Both the company Piper Arrow and Cessna 152 are in the process of getting rebuilt engines, and full-time maintenance is available from Bret Hoover and his staff at Coastal Air Maintenance.

There are other operators on the San Luis Obispo airport that offer flight instruction, and time will tell if the PCF flight school will get off the ground. If the turnout at PCF's open house and barbecue is any indication, then they're well on their way. "In the pouring rain, over 150 people turned out," said Willis.

"We offer online scheduling, and for a small fee our pilots can get a key to the office so they can come down here and get an airplane, fly the simulator, do some hangar flying, or just hang out here at any time they want."

There are big plans for the future. "We want to offer a full-service FBO and provide tiedowns and be able to take care of transient and local fliers."

In the past two years, the main runway at the San Luis Obispo airport has been lengthened and the terminal has been expanded. The boys at PCF Aviation are keeping a close eye on airport development plans. In the meantime, they're located in the little cinder-block building right below the tower. Call them at 805/783-2-FLY (2359).

Twenty-five miles farther north on Highway 101 is Paso Robles Municipal Airport, the home of Central Coast Air Service Inc.

Established 2000

Central Coast Air Service Inc. has been open for business since October 2000, and like PCF Aviation, this school is well along in its Part 141 application process. "The FAA says about three more months," says Tim Devlin, Central Coast's chief pilot.

Like PCF, Central Coast has moved aggressively to fill the increasing air charter needs of the local community. Paso Robles, a small town located 15 miles inland and midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is right in the middle of some of the best flying weather in the United States. A ridge of mountains prevents the moist marine layer fogs from creeping inland and causing flight delays.

Until recently "Paso" was best known for the Mid-State Fair that occurs each fall and the Paso Robles Inn, which has been providing lodging for California travelers for more than 70 years.

Because of its Mediterranean climate and the availability of arable land, over the past five years this modest town has changed character. What used to be a dry land farming community has become the next Napa-Sonoma wine region. This influx of money, and the fact that commuter airline service in this part of California is marginal, has ratcheted up the transportation needs of the new Paso Robles residents.

To meet these needs the Central Coast charter fleet includes a Beechcraft B90 King Air, a Piper Chieftain, and a Piper Seneca II.

After a tour of Central Coast's new and spacious classroom and flight instruction facilities, it's easy to believe Devlin when he talks about plans to increase the number of airplanes in the training fleet, finalize a professional pilot bachelor's degree program with Utah Valley State College, and set up credit programs with local colleges.

Training programs

Devlin claims that in its 15 months of operation, Central Coast has provided more discovery flights than any other school in the Be A Pilot program, an aviation industry initiative to promote flight training. In addition, students have found the school's in-house interest-free flight training program appealing.

The Paso Robles airport is home to a California Highway Patrol aviation detachment, a California Department of Forestry air tanker station, and the Estrella Warbird museum. It's big, nontowered, and in a state of flux. A new 8,000-square-foot terminal building is nearing completion, and the airport has received $2 million in federal airport funds for runway improvements and security. But there are still some details to work out.

"Sixty percent of the traffic count at Paso Robles is because of our flight school," Devlin says. "Our CFIs are on salary, and they work in our charter fleet. Since we opened the doors we've had 67 students at Central Coast, and 15 are now active." In December 2001, four of the school's students earned their private pilot certificates.

Like PCF, the owners of Central Coast have big plans — expanding the training fleet and conducting aviation summer camps for young people. Long-range plans include offering approved flight dispatcher and airframe and powerplant technician courses and establishing an air cargo hub. For more information or to contact Central Coast Air Service, call 805/226-8874.

Flight school info

The sleepy central coast is growing. And two new flight schools have set up shop to take care of the needs of the area. To find out more about training opportunities, contact PCF Aviation or Central Coast Air Service.

PCF Aviation, 935 Airport Drive, San Luis Obispo, California 93401; telephone 805/783-2359; Web site

Central Coast Air Service Inc., 3003 Rollie Gates Drive, Suite 215, Paso Robles, California 93446; telephone 805/226-8874 or toll free 866/359-2227; fax 805/226-8855.