CJP Member Since: 2010
Occupation: CEO/Founder, Eagle Creek Aviation Services
Current Aircraft: Two Citation Excels
Home Base: Naples, FL (Indianapolis-based Company)
Number of Years Flying: 51
Total Time: 18,000
- Can you summarize your background in aviation?
I learned to fly in high school, inspired by my uncles who flew in WWII. Then in 1977, I answered an ad in the paper for Cessna and was hired as a production test pilot with the goal of working my way into sales. For two years, the 172 was practically my car. I flew about 50 hours every week before joining the aircraft sales division in 1979. I loved it, but soon decided I had my own idea of how to do things. So, I quit Cessna and sold airplanes on my own for a year before starting Eagle Creek Aviation in 1982.
- What locations and operations make up Eagle Creek Aviation?
Eagle Creek began with a focus on Cessna single-engines up through the Conquest. As the business matured, the airplanes got bigger, mostly Citations. Though a sales company originally, we became an FBO, flight school and added maintenance facilities. We were a Cessna Service Center for 33 years. Today, Eagle Creek primarily works on Citations, Phenoms and Turbo Commanders.
We also started First Wing Management in 1992, managing about 10 airplanes with seven on charter (Bravos, Excels, Sovereigns). Up until this year, we had a Naples location which did the same thing. And in 2015, we bought another FBO, First Wing Jet Center, that is primarily involved in a flight school. Our diversity in services has been a huge advantage, especially during COVID times.
- What led to your purchase of a Citation? Your typical mission?
Knowledge of the product and the support. As a pilot and business owner, I also knew that the pilot pool for Citations was deep and available. Not to mention, my major airport is only 4,200 feet, and there are not many jets that can operate as well in a short field.
Most of our missions fall under the charter fleet; I would estimate 95 percent of the flights nowadays. My personal use is minimal. However, due to COVID this year, I am utilizing the charter airplanes more than normal. We’ll make two to three family trips each year, filling the seats and flying 1,500 miles to the islands in Florida. They’re incredible airplanes for that type of mission.
- How has COVID affected your business operations?
Flying basically stopped mid-March to end of April. For that same period of time, the sales phones stopped ringing. But our maintenance shops remained busy with no slow down; they’ve been operating at capacity all year. Many customers opted for refurbishments during COVID, which bodes well for our industry and aircraft values. We are also seeing no diminishment in values on the sales side this year – a definite positive.
Also, something interesting to note is that before COVID, our charter operations were primarily B2B. Yet, once flying activity resumed in time for summer, we saw record months in June, July and August – all personal flying.
- As an FBO operator and Citation owner, you have a unique perspective of both sides. Do you have any special advice for other Citation owners?
My biggest advice for Citation owners is to spend more time with your maintenance providers – really get in the weeds of what’s going on with your airplane, specifically if you own an older model. A lot of the schemes were written in the 70s or 80s that were not designed for airplanes flying decades later. For example, I have Honeywell radios in my Excels that are no longer supported by the manufacturer. Get with management teams, MRO shops or Citation experts and learn where the shortcomings are for each model of aircraft you operate.
For us, I am interested in CJP as a pilot as well as a business. I am glad to see we have done a lot of work for CJP members as clients. And I much look forward to when we can resume CJP gatherings!