Citrus County, Florida
Right Rudder Aviation is a Fixed Base Operation (FBO) with a flight school and certified mechanics for Airframe and Powerplant repairs with a complete maintenance shop on site. Right Rudder Aviation is the United States first direct distributorship for Pipistrel Aircraft which is certified as an electric hybrid aircraft.
Transportation and Warehousing
350% increase 2018 – 2021
112% increase from 2018 – 2021
Tell us about yourself and your business. What led you to starting the company and what value does your company provide its customers?
I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life and that was really fostered by my family. My father owned and operated his own businesses when I was a kid, so I grew up with an entrepreneurial mindset. My dad was an engineer and he wanted me to follow in his footsteps and take over the business he started. I went to the University of Central Florida, studied mechanical engineering, and really loved it. But, when I was younger, I always wanted to be an astronaut. So, when I went to college, I wanted to see what this whole thing was all about. After a few flying lessons, I was hooked. I couldn’t stop flying and I knew I had to find a way to do this all the time. I didn’t want to do anything else. At the time, I couldn’t focus on pursuing a career in flying as much as I wanted because engineering took a lot of focus and a lot of work. I quickly realized I couldn’t do both at once but knew I wanted to fly. I switched my major over to entrepreneurship because that would be something that was a little less intense, but still very helpful. It turned out to be the perfect decision.
I started some of my earliest companies because I wanted to be in aviation, but I needed funding since it was very expensive. I started by buying a crashed airplane for $5,000 and rebuilt the entire thing. Everything from the paint and interior to the engine to the avionics computer systems – the whole aircraft was brand new. Eventually, I went on to earn my mechanic’s certificate and license and after a great deal of time and effort, my partner and I sold that plane for around $60,000. We did about 20-30 airplanes over the years while we were in college. That helped fund my ambition to become a pilot.
My partner was also on the entrepreneurship track at the University of Central Florida, and we had many things in common, one being building business plans. Together, we would present business plans at the collegiate and national levels. My partner and I went through the National Business Plan Competition, got second place, and won $10,000. The idea we presented at the time was a regulation change that made it easier to earn a pilot’s certificate at a lower cost. We designed a school that is focused on bringing that new certificate to the population and becoming the first “sport pilot focus” flight school. It was revolutionary because there were none at the time. It essentially cut the cost to become a pilot in half Afterwards, a judge approached us and said he liked our idea and wanted to fund us. That first venture was a huge success and I later sold it to my partner.
One of the other shifts that occurred was when I acquired my pilot’s certificate, it was expected that I would become a pilot for a large airline. Slowly, the culture and demand were emerging for private jets. I thought to myself, I’d much rather own the plane than fly it. That was a pivotal moment when I realized I didn’t want simply fly people from point A to point B. Instead, I wanted to build up a business that allowed me to fly any type of aircraft I want as an owner/operator. When I started this business in 2016, it was always my goal to make the dream of flight accessible to everyone and we’re always looking for innovative ways to make that happen. We keep our costs low by selecting fuel-efficient aircraft, which makes us the consistently lowest-cost flight training provider. We have high-quality, brand-new aircraft that consume less fuel compared to older aircraft. We are a premium product at a lower cost point than the average, which makes us unique. In particular, we introduced another program in 2019 where people can earn their pilot certificate at a quarter of what it would cost them to do so at other flight schools. That program has taken people who would never dream it’s a possibility for them to become a pilot because they don’t happen to have $100,000 in their pocket to be able to accomplish it. That’s exactly what we wanted to see happen – people who would otherwise not become pilots have become pilots because of the company we created.
Tell us a bit about your company culture. How do you like to lead your team?
It’s a very passionate industry, so we’re very blessed that everyone already loves what they do. Our salaries and wages are higher than other industries would be in the same area, so our employees are able to do what they truly love and be able to support their families. For us, we have nearly 30 different business models and divisions. We have flight instructors, customer service team members, administration, and sales, to name a few. All with different personalities and totally different skill sets. It’s interesting because we have many different branches of the company, but it’s crucial we bring them together on the same page. One thing all departments share is our focus on a culture of safety. It’s the only thing that matters in our industry and everyone’s on board with that. After that, we’re in an environment where we get to have a lot of fun. We ensure that every job position has flexibility and key benefits, especially since we’re a smaller company. We’re flexible with schedules and flexible with other things that allow us to recruit people and keep them as happy contributors to the business.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while growing your business?
Typically, when you start a business, you have a business plan or model that you’re following, a few goals that you’re looking to accomplish, and the steps outlined to make things happen. No matter what, nothing ever works exactly the way you think it will. The economy is different, there’s a war in Ukraine, COVID happens – there’s always something. I think the biggest challenge in running any business is being able to understand the unforeseen changes that are out of your control and then adapt to them. For example, we had an opportunity to represent Pipistrel Aircraft, which was incredibly challenging. We’re a very small company whereas our competitors vying for that same spot is much, much larger from a financial perspective; much, much larger from a geographical perspective, and ones with additional locations around the country. We were the underdog, but we sold it by sharing who we are. Things like our culture, that our primary mission is safety, and that we’re committed to bringing the dream of flight to everyone. We proved to them that we are passionate and that we truly care about aviation. We truly care about safety. We truly care about the customers we’re selling to. Other companies may have more money, or more locations, and maybe even more technical expertise, but because they were larger, they lacked that passion. But managing growth can be hard. As we earn these opportunities, do we take every one of them? Early on as an entrepreneur, you’d say yes to every opportunity just to get the revenue to be able to make payroll. As you grow, you get more and more selective about which deal you say yes to. That’s probably one of the hardest things. Which do you say yes to, and which do you say no to? When you have an opportunity to grow in a big way, is that the right move for the company? For instance, even though it can add revenue and profitability, it might make a hit on your culture. That’s something that has been a challenge for us. How fast do we grow, and can it be manageable?
What are some of the goals you have for your company?
We’re constantly having to adapt because aviation is an industry where you can historically see significant ups and downs. Aircraft and fuel sales follow the massive hirings and massive layoffs by the airlines. We’re constantly having to re-evaluate market conditions on a weekly basis, which is quite crazy. But despite that, we are continuing to grow the company. We’re looking at expanding our airport footprint as our unique combination of offerings is different than everyone else in our sector. Because of that, it’s easier for us to take over additional airports and bring our exact model to other airports; the model of running the airport, selling fuel, doing your craft maintenance, and providing flight training locally. Our goal would be to add one additional location every two years moving forward.
Do you have a proudest moment so far?
I think the most important thing we’ve done is created a program that reduced the cost of becoming a pilot. That’s something I’m proud of because we’re able to introduce people to aviation, who otherwise would not have entered the industry. It’s surreal to see the success of the private pilot certificate program, how it’s impacting people, and how it’s making aviation attainable for the average person. I think that’s what we’re the proudest of.
Additionally, a big focus that we made in the last three-four years is working on improving our sustainability efforts. For example, our facility had the first person to earn a private pilot certificate in an electric airplane. We’re focused on working with airports and operators on making aviation a greener space. As electric aircraft become more popular, we’ll look forward to utilizing them to decarbonize aviation and the sector in which we operate.
What does it mean to be selected as an Honoree this year?
I think recognitions like this are important as we as we grow because everyone’s putting in a lot of hard work to become the best company we can be. Things like this are a good reminder to take a minute to celebrate small wins along the way. I think it’s great for everyone who’s taking part in this initiative to be recognized and truly enjoy what being an Honoree means. I think it’s most impactful for our team. It’s one thing for me to talk about our company, but there are so many incredible individuals behind me making it all happen. all these people behind us that are making everything happen. This honor is all about recognizing our employee’s accomplishments.
Is there anyone special you’d like to thank?
I want to thank one key member of our team in particular – Shavonna Reid, our Director of Business Development. She makes so much happen in the business and has been a key part of the growth of our business in a huge way.
Persistence. Period. The world is constantly changing, but nothing can take the place of persistence. Keep at it and you’ll make it work. There are going to be challenges, there are going to be failures, and there are going to be roadblocks you’ll need to overcome. But there are going to be successes as well. Especially in the beginning, it’s going to feel like an uphill battle, but persistence is key.