Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct errors in the description of Christopher Braun’s profession and the timeline of his Experimental aircraft projects.
Christopher Braun is a man of many hats. The owner of the newly opened NorCal Flight Center at Lincoln Regional/Karl Harder Field Airport (LHM) in Lincoln, California, is the type who recognizes a problem, finds a solution, and makes a living while doing so. Over the past two years, Braun has launched two aviation-related businesses, one of which is his three-week-old flight school that he opened in response to irritation he experienced when he learned to fly.
“I was fed up,” said Braun, adding that he did not receive personalized attention and “everyone seemed to have something to prove.” He believes that if potential students are going to take on the time and financial commitment of learning how to fly, they should be treated well in the process.
Braun’s mission for his new business, and what he believes separates him from the rest, is that he fosters “aviation without the attitude,” along with a goal to make flight training more affordable and accessible. The essence of “aviation without the attitude” is making the flight training experience personalized, enjoyable, and simple rather than discouraging and unfriendly, he said. Braun’s inspiration further draws from a time someone told him how Southwest Airlines teaches its pilots about the economics of flying. In essence, Braun said, the anecdote described how one passenger can be the difference between a profitable or unprofitable flight and illustrated the importance of customer satisfaction. “We have to remember that they are the only reason we are in business, and even one bad customer review can really hurt a business. So, we have to prevent them,” he said.
The central element to Braun’s mission for NorCal is eliminating the “attitudes” that are prominent around some flight schools and the negative effects they can have on students. “It seems like the prevailing attitudes at a lot of flight schools are either one of testosterone or apathy,” he said. “As for apathy, sometimes it’s a burnt-out CFI, or time builder [headed] to the airlines, who can really kill student progress.”
“A flight school, with exposure to new pilots who haven’t solidified their opinions or attitudes toward flying, is not the place to have a bunch of pilots who want to prove how cool they are by talking about their ratings, their amazing machines, or the daring maneuvers that they just performed in violation of a FAR,” Braun said. “It needs to be a place where students feel comfortable and most importantly, mentored. That involves listening. Not expounding on one’s greatness. Eliminate the bully attitude that exists out there, and you will see huge growth in your classroom.”
NorCal charges $115 per hour for aircraft rental, and $50 per hour for dual instruction. Braun said NorCal has acquired 45 customers since its launch, thanks to Facebook and Groupon promotion initiatives. The flight school operates a full-time pilot shop to further support the business. For now, NorCal offers a Piper Cherokee 160 for instruction, but Braun said he plans to expand the fleet in the near future.
An aviation enthusiast his entire life and a pilot since 1999, Braun is a law school graduate, and now is a financial advisor in addition to operating his aviation businesses. His financial services background came in handy when evaluating the opportunity of starting a flight school. It all started around November 2013, where he realized he had more time on his hands than usual. His wife suggested he build an Experimental aircraft.
Only a few months later, despite describing himself as “mechanically uninclined,” he was able to complete an Experimental aircraft and has started constructing another. It was during those construction days where Braun invented the Clecall Upright Plier as a remedy for the wrist pain he had developed while using a standard cleco plier. This was his first venture into an aviation-related business, and NorCal Flight Center followed soon after.
Matthew Orloff is an intern with AOPA Communications.