Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Light-Sport Chronicles: Where Everybody Knows Your Name, Part II

Even after tragedy and Global Econ 101, fun flying wins out

Last month, you met Chris Dillis, who took the "friendly clubhouse" atmosphere common to European VLA (very light aircraft) flying and brought it to his own LSA startup in Denver.

Of course, Dillis didn't reinvent the wheel. Many American flying centers do offer camaraderie and shared fun flying. But I see Dillis' singular achievement as his vision of making a fun, social flying experience the priority for Skyraider Aviation. It's the Cheers syndrome: He built that airplane place "where everybody knows your name."

Back to 2006, Skyraider had just opened its doors. "Things were going well," Dillis remembers. "We had one airplane and started in November with winter coming—probably not the best time, but we got our processes worked out."

He started up at nontowered Erie Municipal Airport (EIK) on the outskirts of the Mile High City. And despite the cold, the plane averaged 30 flying hours per month. "Not spectacular but, for winter, pretty good."

Spring came. Airplane number two was ordered. Then Dave Graham and Tim Baldwin formed Gobosh to import the Aero AT-4. Dillis became a dealer and brought a leaseback Gobosh online. Things were rolling along pretty well; then the sky fell in.

"We had an accident that destroyed our first airplane, and killed my instructor and his student. It was devastating. I almost shut the doors. But the very next day, students showed up for their flights. 'Really?' I asked. 'Yes,' they said." Only one student, a 15-year-old with anxious parents, dropped out.

What kept those students and renters coming back to Skyraider—now expanded to nearby Centennial Airport (APA)—was "the sense of belonging we created. Membership is the same as in a country club. There's no shared ownership, just a fee to belong.

"Members feel they belong to something," Dillis explains. "We foster that with monthly meetings, fly-outs, food and drinks at the clubhouse and safety topic discussions. Clubhouse time is ideal for students to informally talk with experienced pilots, and pick up tips and pointers. It helps the whole flight-training process and builds that sense of camaraderie."


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