July 1, 2015 8:44 am. Comments Off on Soaring to Success on a Passion for Flying
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Luckily for the Carr family business – Air Trek Inc. – when Wayne Carr’s father warned him many years ago, “You’re going to get killed in those airplanes,” Wayne chose to ignore the warning, he told us, chuckling at the memory. This ominous forecast from his father took place one Saturday morning when Wayne announced that he was going to learn how to fly. His father was not a pilot and never flew a plane; obviously he was worried about his son. Despite his father’s words, the 18-year-old, who worked for his father’s mechanics business in Langhorne, Pa., went to a local airport near Philadelphia International and took his very first flying lesson. And he’s never looked back or regretted his decision. “But I keep in mind what my dad said, and every time I get into a plane I say, ‘Not today, Dad,’” Wayne related.
That passion for flying and the love of aircraft was passed to two of his brothers and, later, his son Aaron, now 29, who flew solo in a twin- engine plane on his 16th birthday, “before I got my driver’s license,” he said. While Aaron’s maternal grandfather was a private pilot, no one in the Carr family flew or became a professional pilot until Wayne came along. So while Wayne is a first-generation pilot, Aaron has the distinction of being a third-generation pilot, his dad said. The pride was apparent as he talked about his son. Aaron went on to receive his private pilot multi-engine license at 17, and when he was 18 he had a Citation Jet type rating and earned his commercial pilot license.
HARBOR STYLE visited Air Trek headquarters at the Punta Gorda Airport to find out how this successful air ambulance and private jet luxury charter service managed to survive – and thrive – since its founding in 1978. We soon learned that it was due to the Carr family’s work ethic, business savvy and family closeness and ability to work well with each other and the firm’s 50 employees.
Today, Wayne, Aaron and Dana continue to fly as well as run the company that has transported people “as far east as Yugoslavia, as far west as Maui, as far north as Alaska and as far south as Uruguay,” Wayne said.
Looking back over the decades, Wayne recanted the firm’s early days were not without struggle or obstacles. Success did not come overnight – it was 37 years in the making, he said. Wayne spoke of events that led to roadblocks (maybe we should say “airblocks”) along the way, including September 11, which brought air transportation to a grinding halt. Air Trek’s entire operation was shut down; commercial air travel was suspended for three days, and private air transportation was suspended even longer. The air ambulance service was the first to be allowed to operate after one week, but the private charter side of the business remained shut down for days longer. This also interrupted Aaron’s training, as he needed more flight time for his next licensing goal and had a narrow window in which to put in the required hours. Needless to say, the shutdown of airspace caused a financial hardship to the company’s entire operation. But more struggles were yet to come…
In August 2004, Hurricane Charley hit, destroying the hangars and offices and damaged some of the planes. Then some years later, a disgruntled pilot gave false information to federal authorities about Air Trek, which severely impacted the firm for a number of months. Air Trek was investigated and later exonerated, but not without financial hardship in the form of hefty legal fees even though the charges made by the employee were groundless. While the investigation was ongoing, Air Trek planes couldn’t leave the ground and thus no revenue was coming in. Shortly after this incident, Aaron and Ashlee joined the business, coming armed with three Bachelor’s degrees in business administration, finance and accounting (his) and a Master’s degree in marketing (hers). By now the couple had wed. They are the parents of a four-and-a-half-year-old boy, Ayden, and a 16-month-old girl, Addisyn.
Wayne and Aaron said that at first, Ashlee had concerns about her husband being a pilot. But after seeing planes coming and going on a daily basis from the hangar below her vista in the office upstairs, she soon realized that flying was just another way of getting around.
“I think no more of getting in a plane than a car,” Wayne explained, with Aaron adding, “Not that we don’t take it seriously.”
After chatting inside one of the firm’s massive hangars at the airport, we headed upstairs to the corporate office, where a large screen displayed the path of an Air Trek jet in the midst of a flight. The command headquarters constantly track each plane and communicate with pilots on a steady basis until the planes touch down and conclude their missions. This particular morning, a plane had left Jackson, Miss., and was headed east back to Punta Gorda. We learned that the plane had departed at 9:06 a.m. and was due in at 11:37 a.m., for a one hour, six minute flight at an average altitude of 40,000 feet traveling at 418 knots.
Wayne picked up the narrative and talked about when he first began to fly. His family moved to Florida, but he remained in Pennsylvania until he completed his private pilot’s course. He entered the Air Force after graduation and “worked on Minute Man missiles,” among other things, he said. The Air Force allowed Wayne to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, and while in the service, he earned his commercial/instrument single and multi-engine land, certified flight instructor credentials. But his education didn’t end there. After returning to Florida, Wayne added other licenses including the instrument and multi-engine flight instructor, airline transport pilot, commercial single
and multi-engine sea, helicopter and glider certification along with their respective flight instructor ratings. And
there are more, the most recent being a DC-4, which is a four-engine radial prop used in World War II for cargo transport across the Atlantic. And should anything break, Wayne can fix it, as he added an airframe/power plant mechanics certificate with inspection authorization to his impressive list of credentials.
Teaching others is clearly another passion of Wayne’s. He taught his youngest brother, Dana, how to fly, and Dana said that “he has been my flying mentor ever since.” Dana said that the three brothers “are best friends” and that it was easy to work with them.
Success did not come overnight – it was 37 years in the making.
All four of the brothers are close, in fact. Darol and Wayne, along with their father, built the family homestead, a 3,200 square foot house in Tropical Gulf Acres. It took 10 months to build, Wayne said, and their mother lives there to this day. Sundays are a time when the family members like to congregate at the matriarch’s house, Wayne said.
When Aaron came along and expressed an interest in flying, Wayne was only too happy to teach him. Aaron was raised in Punta Gorda and is a graduate of Charlotte High School, where he first met Ashlee. At an age when high school teens earn spending money working in a store, restaurant or mowing lawns, Aaron was earning extra cash as a jet co-pilot in his senior year! Ashlee and Aaron were in the same graduation class, and they both headed to Florida State University after graduation.
Originally Aaron pursued undergraduate degrees in finance and business; his major was entrepreneurship, while Ashlee concentrated on a marketing degree. But when they graduated in 2008, they found the economy had tanked and jobs were few and far between. Wayne suggested that Aaron remain in school and focus on accounting, a field where jobs would be easier to get. Ashlee, too, decided to return and focused on earning her master’s degree in marketing and communications.
After Air Trek came to a grinding halt during the investigation, Aaron and Ashlee had already finished their education, so they came to lend a helping hand. Wayne said that he told his son that he didn’t want him to feel obligated to work for the family business, but Aaron quickly responded, “I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.” And Wayne, beaming with pride as a father will, said, “I love having him here.”
￼￼￼As this was being written, Aaron was working towards his airline transport rating; he had about 18 months before the written exam. Just then, son Ayden came into the room with Ashlee, who had picked him up from pre-school. Wayne asked him if he wanted to go into a plane to have his picture taken with his father and grandfather. Ayden eagerly agreed.
About Air Trek
There are both jets and prop planes in the company’s operation. For those wanting luxury travel, a concierge service, run by Dana, will have a limo waiting for you, doorstep to jet to runway to destination. A typical price for charter service from Punta Gorda to the northeast is $16,000 on a plane that can accommodate eight. When we commented that this must be a very profitable business, we were quickly brought down to earth, so to speak. Wayne explained that the cost of owning and maintaining the fleet was very costly, and he gave some examples. For instance, one brake on a jet costs $16,000 – the price of a charter to the northeast. And a typical plane in the fleet – the Citation 500 – cost the company nearly $5 million to acquire. A new plane would cost between $12 million and $15 million, Wayne said. Standard maintenance on one of the planes recently cost $90,000. And a recent engine repair on a Citation VII jet cost a whopping $177,000. (And we thought car repairs were expensive!)