January 10: Day one of my brand new flight school, Out of the Blue Aviation. It is also my 44th birthday and 228 days since I earned my wings. I silently ask myself the same question everyone else around the airport has been voicing over wrenches, tires, and beers, “Is she crazy?” No doubt, bets were placed over this new arrival (a woman! And barely into her first logbook!) surviving one year at the field. If I had an airplane for every person who told me “Well, you know how to make a million in aviation ...” (start out with three), I could start an airline!
The insanity of starting an FBO had begun to overcome me three months earlier, when I found a hangar for sale next to the restaurant. It was the only hangar for sale at the airport and I began thinking how well it would work for an FBO – great location and nicely divided into office, classroom, and hangar space. It was perfect! Well, except for the walls that would have to come out, and the drop ceiling that should be removed, and the carpet and tile that must be dug up, and then cleaning and repainting everything to strip the layers of tar left by the cigarettes of the previous owner. It would be perfect indeed, after two months of grueling remodeling. Everyone in the family got involved. My husband worked on the creaky old hangar doors; my sons helped demolish walls and flooring and haul loads to the dump in the bitter northwest winter rains; I scrubbed every inch of walls, cupboards, blinds to new brightness. And so the dream was created.
My decision to start an FBO had been contingent upon finding the right people, well-steeped in aviation, to guide me. I found a chief pilot, with years of instruction experience, who agreed to commit two years to the venture. I also knew a wise old aviator who agreed to help setup and oversee the office/training/testing facilities, but only on the condition that I promise to NOT run it like the other FBO at which he’d previously worked (and which had recently gone out of business). I was happy to agree. I had my own vision, based more on good business practices and gleaned from the many FBOs I’d visited where I too had observed what NOT to do. So, I had the right people, I had the right location, I even had an agreement to lease a C-152 and a C-172 for the training. If I had known that the aircraft agreement would fall apart shortly after, I may not have proceeded so merrily into the abyss . . . .
Day one of the new venture and I am surrounded by flowers and cards from family and friends who, not knowing anything about aviation, naively wish me well. Hovering above their kind gestures are the words of the knowledgeable airport naysayers. I can hear the echoes of “Don’t do it” “It’s a tough market” “It’ll never work” and “All FBOS fail.” Through the haze of excitement and doubt, I look around and I see a beautiful pilot lounge – the high ceiling that had hidden behind the dingy drop panels is painted blue with fluffy clouds; the newly expanded space has shiny laminate flooring and comfortable red leather sofas; the bedroom of the previous owner has been made into a pilot shop, and the kitchen is now painted red and outfitted as an espresso stand. The outdoor patio won’t be used for a while, but it waits ready with cast iron furniture and, like the lounge, an awesome view of the runway. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would enjoy some of the most breathtaking sunsets from that patio, after long summer days of aviating.
I thought for a moment about the path that had brought me here. After wanting to fly since I was a child, I had looked in the mirror one day and noticed I wasn’t getting any younger. I also realized I was stagnating in my life, with no new challenges to thirst after. The next day, I went to the airport and signed up for flying lessons. I quickly noticed that any day I flew was better than any other day. I felt alive, challenged, invigorated. When I shared my new adventure with my girlfriends, I was surprised at the question I kept hearing - “Aren’t you afraid of dying?”
After the first couple of times, my reply became, “I’m more afraid of not living!” and I began to verbalize what I’d always known - that a life lived in fear was not a life worth living, at least not for me. Not that I endorse rushing headlong into danger, but evaluating a situation and accepting its challenges, along with the accompanying risk, is very empowering.
As we celebrate day one, with nary a student or customer in sight, I can’t help but confront myself with a similar question, “Aren’t you afraid of failure?” Actually yes, I admit, I am – I’m afraid of failure(possible) and of looking foolish(probable) and of making mistakes(guaranteed) and of losing lots of money(gulp!) and any number of other things that could happen, but the same answer surfaces - “I am more afraid of not living.” I don’t expect to make a million (obviously, since I didn’t start with three!) and I know I’ll have to work hard to create my vision. For today, I celebrate this new venture hoping that it will pay for itself, pay me a little, and make me immensely richer in life experiences.