Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Light-Sport Chronicles: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Here’s a flight school/club where fun flying is #1

Back to Chris Dillis: As half owner of a working demonstrator—his partner was a VLA dealer in Britain and Germany—he noticed how cheerfully people hung around with other pilots, telling war stories, sometimes flying, sometimes not.

When he relocated back to the U.S. about the time the light-sport movement came into being, he reminisced about his friend Trevor, the dealer and AT-3 partner. “He sure was having a lot more fun than I was sitting behind a computer screen doing I.T. stuff.” Dillis has a masters in Internet Technology, earned while working as a young Air Force officer (he’s a class of ’92 Academy grad) in the Pentagon.

And when he saw an imported Evektor SportStar, which was the first ASTM-sanctioned LSA model in the U.S., he thought, “I’m starting my own biz. I’m going to fly around the country selling airplanes.”

He wanted to sell the AT-3, but its stall speed was a single knot too high for the LSA spec, so on to plan B. Since the AT-3’s biggest competitor was the SportStar, he thought, “I’ll go with the biggest competitor.”

But another guy beat him to it; the territory was covered. However, Evektor asked, would you like to be an Evektor Flight Center? They told him he could buy one plane, train people to fly in it, and do some sales, but he wouldn’t have any sales quota.

“That sounded even better to me!” Dillis explains. “By teaching people to fly, I could make money between airplane sales and get commissions when I sold an airplane, but I wasn’t expected to sell.”

Deal! He signed up, but had to wait a few months for the SportStar to arrive. In the meantime, a big air show kicked off in Denver.

“The regional dealer flew out in his nice-looking SportStar,” Dillis recounts. “We set it up in front of aviation enthusiasts who had heard of LSA and were excited about it, but didn’t know much about the new category. We ended up gathering a lot of names.”

When his own SportStar arrived, he sent out emails that said, “We’re in business!” "

“It was kind of funny,” he remembers. “I’d gotten 50-some email addresses of people interested in the LSA. A week after I took delivery of the Evektor, I had an open house. It was me, my wife and my instructor, sitting in the office, figuring maybe one or two would walk in now and then throughout the day.”

No one was prepared for what happened next. “A minute after our starting time, 50 people showed up, all at once; almost everyone on my list. I hadn’t planned for that!”

The surprise led to an impromptu presentation on the sport pilot rule and LSA. “And I had my first revenue flight the very next day.”

That’s how, in November of 2006, Skyraider Aviation was born. Ahead lay the crippling recession and a tragic loss that nearly closed the business. To find out how Dillis weathered those storms to build a profitable LSA school in the worst of times...well folks, you’ll have to tune in next month for The Rest Of The Story...and it’s a good one, I promise you.


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