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AirVenture Flight Center takes off

A new business holding an open house to introduce itself to the community is certainly not unique. However, staging a fly-in of aircraft to celebrate an opening is.

On May 12, AirVenture Flight Center held its fly-in/open house at the Olive Branch Airport, bringing a pilot training center that houses state-of-the-art equipment as well as an aircraft rental facility. Co-founders Ken and Brenda Hammerton said AirVenture provides a one-stop shop for current and would-be aviators as the industry faces a growing shortage of qualified pilots.

“We offer A-Z service for pilots and pilot candidates,” Brenda said. “Our goal is to inspire others to love aviation as much as we do by providing state-of-the-art training technology, hands-on instruction and complete resources for every aviation need.”

Taking off

Flying is a way of life for the Hammertons. Both Ken and Brenda are native Californians who moved to Northwest Mississippi approximately 20 years ago. Aviation is what brought the Hammertons to Olive Branch — Ken is a pilot with FedEx in Memphis.

The couple subsequently founded Vectair-USA approximately four years ago, offering a six-passenger Piper Navajo Chieftain for charter. (The Chieftain can also haul freight across the continental United States.) The business proved successful, and soon customers were requesting more services, such as aircraft maintenance. (The Hammertons and Kyle Peterson, who serves as director of maintenance are the founders of Vectair-USA.) So, that service was added.

In the meantime, the Hammertons watched as the aviation industry began to struggle to find enough qualified pilots to meet demand. As a pilot, Ken witnessed firsthand the impact on the industry from a dwindling pool of certified aviators. Seeing an opportunity, a glass cockpit flight simulator was purchased, offering advanced pilot instruction.

The May 12th event was to celebrate the emergence of the company as a full-service, modern aviation services provider housed in a renovated, state-of-the-art facility. Brenda called the event an unqualified success.

“We had music from Jason D. Williams, who brought his piano out, and experimental aircraft flying in,” she said. “The City of Olive Branch, the airport, the industry as a whole, has been supportive of us.”

Sky-high expectations

To accommodate the new services and equipment, AirVenture needed a larger facility, and is now housed in one of Olive Branch Airport’s largest buildings, which underwent a major renovation. (The company actually occupies two buildings at the airport as well as hangar space expansive enough to accommodate larger aircraft.)

The new building houses technologically-advanced equipment for training pilots, including a FAA-approved glass cockpit simulator, the newest FAA training tool offered. The company has received acceptance for its G1000 glass cockpit training program based on the FAA’s Industry Training Standards, or FITS. FITS was developed to help pilots master automated systems and to help identify and manage/mitigate risks. The program, offered entirely in Olive Branch, is scenario-based, airline-style line-oriented flight training, which requires the student to manage various resources and make decisions while flying the highly advanced glass cockpits of today’s aircraft. Training is performed in Frasca International’s Frasca Mentor ATD.

The program is not aircraft specific. Any pilot operating aircraft equipped with the G1000 avionics package can benefit from the training.

The training can be fast, as well. The company offers a fast-track program, providing students the opportunity to complete the program and receive a certification of completion in a mere five months. While completing the training does not guarantee a job, and does get students in the door.

“Completion of the program guarantees an interview,” Brenda said. “That was not true in the past when there was a glut of pilots. Pilots would submit a résumé and hope for an interview.”

Other features in the building cater to incoming and outgoing pilots, as well as pilot candidates. A fully-stocked parts room allows pilots to purchase parts directly from AirVenture, or order online from other locations. Because AirVenture orders the parts in bulk, the pilots received discounted prices on many airline materials.

The parts room also features a parts library, where pilots can research parts on one of several computers. Customers can order parts themselves, or the company can order for them. And it offers a discount to owners of aircraft parked at the Olive Branch Airport.

Brenda said Olive Branch offers several advantages to the business. Not only is it her home, it is easily accessible and convenient especially for pilots and pilots-to-be in the Memphis area. Just as important, the Olive Branch Airport offers a control tower, giving students advanced training in working with control towers.

The Vectair segment of the business also continues to grow as airport delays and other factors impact air travel. In addition to the chartering of aircraft, it also provides rental, offering Beechcraft Duchess and Beechcraft Baron aircraft. In addition, Vectair offers management services to meet specific needs of corporate flight departments and individual aircraft owners. Just a few of those executive-level services include complete tax accounting, detailed monthly reporting and bill payments, scheduling of aircraft and crew selection and oversight.

Today, there are 15 employees working for Vectair, 14 workers in flight instruction and an administrative staff of seven.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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