It might be a little cheeky for Paragon Flight and its 15 employees to take credit for the entire general aviation manufacturing industry, but as a flight school Paragon can legitimately claim to form part of its headwaters. After all, the industry would not exist without pilots to fly the aircraft the manufacturers produce, and those pilots would not exist without flight schools like Paragon to train them.
Based at Page Field Airport (FMY) in Fort Myers, Florida, the nine-year-old enterprise has grown from a small startup in an off-airport office to become the largest aeronautical services provider on the field. The school’s fleet of 10 aircraft, valued at $2.5 million to $3 million, collectively log about 600 hours a month—800 during the busy winter season—and in 2014 used 47,557 gallons of 100LL and 2,405 gallons of unleaded fuel purchased at FMY.
The Paragon fleet is modern, well equipped—most have Garmin glass panels—and diverse: six Cessna 172s; a Flight Design CTLS Light Sport Aircraft; a Tecnam P2006T Rotax-powered twin; a Cessna 206; and a Cessna Corvalis TTX.
Paragon Flight is an example of the new-generation flight school. It is owned and managed by smart, savvy young entrepreneurs—CEO Chris Schoensee, his wife, Sarah, and chief flight instructor Jeffrey Wolf—who match a passion for flying with a desire to succeed in business. They are convinced that the route to success is defined not just by good equipment and good instructors, but also by excellent customer service.
“It’s our culture,” Schoensee said. “We live, eat, and breathe customer service. We want our instructors to have great relationships with their clients. Our culture is always focusing on giving customers the best experience possible.”
“Most of our clients are not career-oriented pilots,” Wolf said. “They enjoy flying for fun. They are successful people. Many are business owners. They can see it when someone is not treating customers well. They can go anywhere they want to get training, so if they are not enjoying it here, they will leave.”
They don’t leave. In fact, based on survey results from Paragon customers, AOPA named Paragon Flight as the best flight school in the United States in its third annual Flight Training Excellence Awards.
Paragon’s major marketing effort is its website, www.paragonflight.com, which the Schoensees and Wolf promote using search-engine optimization. When someone types “Florida flight training,” Wolf said, “we win the Google search.”
Paragon’s size and activity make it a significant contributor to the $27.35 million direct economic impact that the Lee County Port Authority says Page Field has on Southwest Florida.
“They are one of the great tenants on the airport,” said Barry Bratton, director of general aviation for the Lee County Port Authority. “I have never heard anything but positive comments from their customers. They are wowed by Paragon’s service.”
Mark Twombly is a professional pilot and freelance writer living in Florida.