Waco Flying Service already offers flight lessons in planes at Waco Regional Airport, but expansion is in the air.
The company hopes to add charter service and helicopter flying lessons as well as sightseeing trips above the city.
It also is building a fuel farm to keep its own planes running, but it will consider selling fuel to the public. That would put the firm in competition with Texas Aero, the only purveyor of aviation gas and jet fuel at the airport.
Waco Flying Service began leasing space at the airport in January 2011. The steel frame of a 12,000-square-foot hangar and 5,000 square feet of office space is under construction.
The company aims to have the building finished by mid-August. Clark Brooks, 23, who graduated from Baylor University with a degree in aviation sciences, runs Waco Flying Service with financial backing from his father, Joe Brooks.
Clark Brooks said he is investing about $1.2 million in the hangar and fuel tanks.
Waco Flying Service offers flight lessons in Cessna 172, Cessna 150 and Grumman Cougar Twin Engine planes.
“We do have a lot of demand and are just booked solid,” Clark Brooks said.
He said his 80 full-time students include teenagers, college students and middle-aged men.
Brooks gives would-be pilots a feel for the school by offering a 30-minute flight for $49.99. If they are hooked, they sign up for training to secure a license to fly most single-engine aircraft.
The cost can range from $5,000 to $7,000.
Clark Brooks started flying when he was 13 years old.
“I’ve never done anything else and I wanted to make a career of it,” he said.
He will purchase a King Air 200 and hire a charter pilot to carry customers “almost anywhere” for business or pleasure. Brooks is licensed to fly helicopters and is anxious to teach others to use choppers.
“Over the next 10 years, there will be a huge need for helicopter pilots,” he said.
He said the number of new pilots is not keeping pace with pilots who learned to fly during the Vietnam War and are retiring.
Jim Rowland, director of the aerospace division at Texas State Technical College and the TSTC airport, said he can’t speak to national trends, but acknowledged Texas is facing a shortfall in helicopter pilot.
That is why next summer TSTC will partner with two flying services, including the Dallas area’s Sky Helicopter, to offer an associate’s degree in helicopter pilot training.
“I know of two companies with probably 30 unfilled slots that just can’t find qualified pilots,” Rowland said.
He said pilots are needed to make runs to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico; handle flights for emergency medical services, and retrieve information for weather services and television news stations.
But securing a private helicopter flying license is only the beginning, Rowland said. Pilots need license upgrades and preferably up to 1,500 hours of flying experience to secure employment.
Military veterans already have accumulated these hours, while others try to accrue them by serving as instructors.
“In most cases, it’s probably going to take three years to get hired by a company,” he said.
Brooks said he is not deterred. He intends to buy a helicopter shortly after his hangar is complete, probably spending about $300,000 on it.
He would like to add a second by year’s end.
Besides providing instruction, he wants to give people a bird’s-eye view of the city via helicopter.
Brooks said he is building a fuel farm to satisfy his own fuel needs. He thinks he can recoup his investment in about three years by not having to pay the per-gallon markup that Texas Aero charges customers.
Whether his company will make the leap into selling fuel to the public remains to be seen.
Tommy Miller, director of operations at Texas Aero, said he sells about 9,000 gallons of avgas monthly for use in planes powered by piston engines, and about 55,000 gallons of jet fuel.
“Our biggest sales involve corporate jets carrying executives with business in Waco,” he said.
Miller said Texas Aero also serves the American Eagle and United Express commuter flights to Dallas and Houston.
Texas Aero, which has operated since 1971, also sells and maintains aircraft.
“I don’t believe this company (Waco Flying Service) poses much of a threat as long as we keep doing what we’re doing,” he said.
“It’s all about customer service and we provide a lot of services that people don’t realize.
“We help people with car rentals and hotel reservations if they’re spending the night.”
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