Moving up, fast

Owner's flying leads business into aviation

July 1, 2012

Gary Crandall

Photography by the author

Gary Crandall has owned an airplane since 2008, when he was a presolo student pilot. But the Youngstown, Ohio, businessman has never been through an annual inspection—he’s been moving up in aircraft so quickly that he sold each of his first three in less than a year, before an annual could come due.

That pattern will end in July, when he has scheduled an annual for his current airplane, a Piper Meridian turboprop.

Crandall had been involved in a successful swimming pool supply business from 1981 until 2005, when it was sold to a venture capital firm. However, operations quickly unraveled under the new ownership, and he and his team bought back the company in 2006. The business, which became GLI Industries, specializes in custom products including swimming pool liners and pool covers that are made to order. Embracing the Toyota production model, Crandall’s team employed lean manufacturing techniques that shortened the lead time for custom products from 15 days to three—and custom orders often are shipped the same day they’re received. “Our market has declined by 84 percent, but we’ve doubled the size of the business,” he said, attributing the success to his team and its adoption of lean manufacturing.

Only two years after getting back into the business, he was in New York City with his wife; a friend, who was an airline pilot; and his friend’s wife. Enduring the delay and indignity of security screening, he told his friend that he would pay to rent an airplane if he would fly it. “But he told me it’s not so simple,” Crandall recalled. (He is not related to Robert L. Crandall, the former American Airlines president and CEO, although he believes his last name may have earned him a couple of American upgrades.) The regulations allow only the sharing of expenses in private operations—and even if they were more permissible, no aircraft appropriate to the trips he wanted to fly was available to rent locally. The pilot suggested that Crandall learn to fly.

“It was a Friday night and I took my first flight lesson the following Monday,” he said. “I flew every single day, and soloed at 17.9 hours.”

Crandall bought a Piper Archer III, which arrived the day after his first solo in a Cessna 172. He transitioned into the Archer and completed his private pilot certificate in April 2009. The following month he took delivery of a Piper Saratoga II TC, and passed his instrument checkride in it that October.

“I put the TKS [weeping wing anti-ice system] in the Saratoga in December 2009. When I found out that made the airplane too heavy, I sold it. I got the Matrix so I would have a lot of useful load—it didn’t have the plumbing of the [pressurized] Mirage. I made this very sound decision against the advice of many others.”

Crandall took delivery of his Matrix in June 2010. The following May, after a Malibu/Mirage Safety and Training Foundation event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, he had to climb above icing on the flight home to Ohio. His wife did not care for the light rime ice they encountered. “A happy wife is a happy life,” he said. “Essentially it was a nonevent, but it was sufficient to spook my spouse. I realized that I needed altitude. The following Monday I put the Matrix up for sale.” In June 2011, he traded it for a Meridian. Today, Crandall’s logbooks show more than 830 hours of flight time. “When I got the Meridian, I only had about 600 hours.”

A friend of his sold insurance, “and he really shopped it hard.” The carrier required him to log 25 hours in the turboprop with an instructor. “I thought that was woefully inadequate for a turbine aircraft,” said Crandall, who describes himself as conservative and safety-minded. He hired a former airline pilot to fly with him for three months. He logged some 80 hours during that period. “We flew everywhere, and into everything. It was good mentoring time.

“The difference between my Matrix—which was a great airplane—and the turboprop is that it’s so versatile,” he said. For example, pulling the throttle back to Flight Idle provides a 3,000-fpm descent. “In the Matrix, you’re a part of the weather, not above the weather. The Meridian doesn’t get you above all of the weather but it gets you above most of it. It’s an amazing machine, and it lands on a dime.”

But the biggest benefit Crandall has realized is true airspeed. For example, if he’s flying west from Ohio into an 80-knot headwind, “at least I’m still doing 200 knots” across the ground.

In the meantime, Crandall’s team expanded its offerings to include a line of environmentally friendly cleaning supplies that are surfactants, not solvents. “I took some to my wife, and she loved it,” he said. “One day I was going out for some hangar therapy, and I took some of the product with me. I sprayed it on the airplane and the turbine grime just dripped off. Then I found out it’s Boeing certified.”

The business started another product line—GLI Aviation—and began advertising Nutek Green on the Malibu/Mirage Owners and Pilots Association website. He said the product got rave reviews on the MMOPA website and realized those comments were beginning to drive sales.

Business takes Crandall all over the country. Charlotte, North Carolina, and Michigan are frequent destinations. “Michigan is a 35-minute flight; you barely get up in the air. It’s a six- or seven-hour drive around the lake. I can go for lunch and come home in time to have dinner.” He also flies to Boston, Chicago, New York—and made a trip to Los Angeles. “I’m averaging about 250 hours a year. It goes faster but I go more places.”

Crandall attends Malibu/Mirage Safety and Training Foundation events annually, and does recurrent training every year—often with instructors he meets through MMOPA or the foundation. “I try to do it with different folks, but I kept changing airplanes and having to do initial training. If you do your training with a different guy every year, you learn something different from each of them.” He also takes advantage of opportunities to fly with a local designated pilot examiner and a 15,000-hour airline pilot. And after nearly four years as an aircraft owner, he’s looking forward to finally completing his first annual inspection.

Email mike.collins@aopa.org

Mike Collins

Mike Collins | Technical Editor, AOPA

Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.