Aviation Supplies & Academics’ new owner is a former Seattle bicycle salesman and longtime student pilot who began his publications career 31 years ago by working for free.
“I had a customer at Aurora Cycle named Joe Cucchiari, and he had the word ‘president’ printed on his business card so I sent him a resume,” said Mike Lorden. A couple of weeks later he heard back from Cucchiari and Joe Finelli, ASA’s co-owners in the mid-1980s, and landed the job.
Lorden said his journey to the top of the aviation education powerhouse began as an unpaid warehouse hand because he “wanted to know what they did from the ground floor up.”
After two weeks of packing orders, Lorden’s attention to delivering good customer service was recognized by Cucchiari and he became the sales and marketing representative for ASA’s Midwest distributors.
Lorden recalled the early days when he met face to face with smaller clients in Boise, Idaho; Wichita, Kansas; and Oklahoma City, while Cucchiari called on those in bigger cities including San Diego, Miami, and New York.
The company merchandised about 50 items from its Washington state headquarters when Lorden began and “we’re around 750 products right now.”
The business began more than 75 years ago when Creighton Merrell established Merrell Aviation Ground School in 1940 to train post-war World War II pilots for civilian airline positions. In 1969 it became the Northwest School of Aviation and operated franchises as Aviation Seminars of America. In 1976 Cucchiari purchased the company and renamed it Aviation Supplies and Academics to keep the initials ASA. He added cassette courses, new books, and other training materials. Cucchiari brought publisher Finelli aboard in 1981 to help usher ASA into printing and manufacturing.
Lorden had only been at ASA for 18 months when Finelli tapped him to manage daily operations after Cucchiari died in 1987.
“One of the reasons I wanted to buy the company was to keep the line moving forward,” said Lorden. ASA has kept up with the digital revolution by offering its training manuals, syllabi, and test prep courses in a variety of formats. “In the old days we used to do one private pilot test book. Now, for every device, it takes a different file format—iOS, Android, standard eBook, PDF format, Kindle, and paper. It’s crazy.”
Lorden said he’s a big believer in print and has watched with interest as public school educators attempted to adopt tablets for traditional classroom learning. “Teachers found out students used them for everything but studying,” he said.
Though the company also sells headsets, flight bags, and DVDs, ASA continues to put its stock largely in traditional paper products even as newspapers and other media shifted most of their resources to digital. “We’re watching the stats of the eBook industry and traditional books still win,” he said. “Paper is an amazing technology.”
When a colleague pointed to the tenth edition of author Bob Gardner’s The Complete Private Pilot as a publishing milestone a few years ago, Lorden savored the moment. Now entering its twelfth edition, Gardner’s private pilot instructional bible shows no signs of slowing down and continues to nurture aspiring pilots through regulations, aviation theory, and practical test maneuvers.
Lorden began his own flight training in 1987 “and I got in a few hours. I started to map the course and then life got in the way.” He said he owes it to the aviators that ASA has trained in the past and to future generations of pilots to keep the company robust and relevant.
“We don’t have the killer app, the newsworthy thing that gets all the attention,” Lorden said. “A lot of the people that swing for the fences are already gone. ASA just provides the good, basic things that get put on the shelves year after year.”