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

Centennial is the busier Skyraider locale. Each plane flies around 50 hours per month. Erie yields closer to 40 hours. The financial break-even point is about 30 hours per month, so the company operates in the black. Who wouldn't like to say that these days? The planes (three Gobosh 700s, a PiperSport, an Evektor SportStar and a Remos G3) rent for $105/hour at Erie and $115/hour at Centennial.

Club membership is 92 between the two locations. "And we add more than we lose." Dillis hopes a stronger economy will improve growth. "We're a recreational-flying operation: No one's going toward an airline career with us."

Flying several training missions a day at busy corporate-traffic Centennial Airport doesn't hurt business either.

"When we use the 'Gobosh' call sign, the tower tells the biz jets: 'Gulfstream, parallel the Gobosh.' The pilots radio back, 'What's a Gobosh?' After a while, they learn. It's like free radio advertising, every day! We've created the perception there's always an LSA in the air over Centennial. That's not far from the truth either. I think they're jealous we're having all that fun!

"I think we're helping legitimize light sport," Dillis says. "We operate at one of the busiest GA airports in the country and don't interfere with other airplanes. We're as fast as a 172, outclimb them and cruise downwind at the same speed. It's fun to beat them to pattern altitude."

Chris Dillis took a simple idea—provide a friendly place to fly—and turned it into a winning business concept.

"People say flight training is a commodity: 'You learn wherever you go.' I don't agree. We've created something beyond flight training. Flight schools could be more creative by embracing the idea that pilots learn to fly because they enjoy it. We make it feel like fun, not like school.

"Too many flight schools still look down their noses at light sport," Dillis says. "There are so many potential customers! When private-pilot students quit flying because they haven't a clue what to do with their license, we say, 'Come join us, have fun with us!'"

Right now, I'm thinking of all those studies and advertising programs and discovery flights, all focused on figuring out how to grow GA again. Hey folks: Take a hint from Chris Dillis and put the kicks back in flying!


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