Airplanes Made Business Success Possible

It’s hard to find a more enthusiastic or resounding endorsement of personal flying as a business tool than you’ll hear from Bill Chandler.

We caught up with Chandler at the Georgetown, SC, airport (KGGE), near his vacation home at DeBordieu Colony, a resort community. N300WC, his B200 King Air, was parked on the ramp.

Gracious and unassuming, Chandler sat in the terminal lounge and shared the story of his flying and business careers, which always supported each other.

Chandler and two partners owned Manchester Industries, based in Richmond, and a group of related paper products companies. At the peak, he said, “we had nine plants in six states. I was the operations guy overseeing all of it.

“There’s no way I could have kept up with it without airplanes. We had no middle management. All the plant managers reported to me. There were very few weeks I wasn’t flying. If a problem arose somewhere, I could be in the plant in two hours.”

In 43 years of flying, Chandler has logged more than 6,500 hours. His first plane was a Cherokee 140, followed by an F33 Bonanza, a B58 Baron, a C90 King Air and, since 2012, the B200 King Air. He’s been a based customer at Chesterfield County Airport for 37 years.

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Bill Chandler at the controls of his B200 King Air

“I’ve known Bill since I was a 20-year-old CFI, before I started Dominion Aviation,” recalled Dominion CEO Mike Mickel. “Bill had just bought his Bonanza and I was doing checkouts in a lot of Beechcraft products. I checked him out in his Bonanza – and in every other airplane he’s owned.

“At the time, Bill said that Bonanza is ‘the only airplane I’ll ever need.’ And I often remind him he’s said the same thing about every airplane since!

“Insurance companies can be leery of owner pilots in turbine-powered airplanes,” Mickel continued, “because many people have trouble separating the tasks of flying and running a business. But Bill has the ability to put everything else aside when he steps into the cockpit. I would put Bill’s professionalism and flying skills up against any professional pilot I know.”

A native of Asheboro, NC, Chandler graduated from North Carolina State in 1972 and went to work for Caraustar Paper Board in Charlotte. “As a plant engineer, I did a little of everything.”

In 1979, Ken Aspinall, Tom Harris and two others had bought the Manchester paper mill, located where Hull Street meets the James River. “They were all salesmen. They knew how to sell, but they had no clue how to run a mill,” Chandler recalled. “They approached Caraustar, the mill where I worked, to buy it.

“Jim Dalton, the chairman, sent me up to Richmond to have a look at it. I was 28 or 29 years old. I went back and told him it’s the worst looking mill I’ve ever seen. But we can fix it and make money with it.

“Caraustar turned the deal down, but Ken Aspinall asked me to come join him. In December, 1979, I became a partner and two of the others got out. By the end of the first year, we’d turned the plant around and made up the deficit.”

A series of acquisitions later brought the company to nine plants and a workforce of 500 to 600. “At one time we were told we were the 88th largest privately-held company in Virginia, and we grew some more after that.”

Now all the plants have been sold and the partners have retired. “It was a great deal for us,” Chandler said. “None of us were wealthy people, but we all worked hard, and we did very well when we sold.”

One of the original partners who got out in 1979 still lives in Richmond. “He told me, if I’d only known who you were, Chandler, I’d never have sold my share of the partnership.”

Now early in his retirement, Chandler still flying his King Air, but aside from some consulting work, the destinations are mostly for fun.

Chandler’s passion for flying started early in life. “My father took me to Hinshaw Field (N61) near Asheboro to see the airplanes. It’s a 1,400-foot turf strip, owned by the owner of the Hinshaw Hosiery Mill.

“My first flight was as a Cub Scout. That was in a Piper Tri-Pacer. I have a photo, but you can’t see the tail number. I wish I could find that airplane and buy it. After that, I would hang around the airport and just watch.”

Later, in 1975, Chandler continued, “I had a good friend who had a Cherokee Arrow that he flew for a long time on a student pilot certificate. He kept asking me, have you started [your lessons] yet? I hadn’t, because I didn’t have the money. So he wrote me a check for $200, which was enough to get me started. In those days you could rent an airplane for $30 an hour. Since then I’ve done the same thing for several others.

“When I was working in Charlotte, to build time, I’d go to the airport after work and fly cancelled checks until 2 to 3 a.m. I’d go with professional pilots, but I was doing the flying. That gave me a lot of night experience. I’d typically go Charlotte to Asheville to Knoxville to Winston-Salem to Raleigh-Durham and back to Charlotte in a Cherokee Arrow.

“Those guys flew all the time, in all kinds of weather. They basically never cancelled a flight.”

Chandler raised three daughters, all of whom grew up flying with him. They all followed their father to North Carolina State, but none of them inherited his passion for aviation.

The tradition is continuing, though, through a son-in-law. Dave Coiner, who’s married to Chandler’s youngest daughter and lives in Richmond, has learned to fly at Dominion Aviation and is working on his instrument rating in a Cirrus.

 

 

Reorg Splits Retail, Charter Maintenance

As Dominion Aviation’s maintenance services have grown, it makes sense now to focus separately on retail maintenance and the on charter and aircraft management fleet, said Dominion Aviation CEO Mike Mickel. This is to assure each group will receive undistracted attention and enjoy a better customer experience.

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Jimmy Hebree

Jimmy Hembree, a Dominion veteran, now runs the Part 145 Repair Station, which serves owner-operator customers, including the large piston fleet. Frank Wisnieski, a recent hire, oversees the more specialized demands of maintaining Dominion’s charter and management fleet.

Wisnieski and a full-time assistant work full-time on the charter aircraft and use two of Hembree’s mechanics on a contract basis.

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Frank Wisnieski

Meanwhile, longtime maintenance director Tony Nunes decided this was a good time to pursue another opportunity. “I’m very grateful for Tony’s dedicated service and friendship over the years,” remarked Mickel, “and I wish him lots of success.”

Hembree, 40, comes to the job through years of experience, driven by a lifelong fascination.

“I’ve always liked mechanical things,” he explained. Growing up in Newport News and Yorktown, “I raced go-karts for several years in middle school and high school and I’ve always enjoyed working on things.”

When it was time for college, Hembree chose Hampton University, where he earned an A&P certificate and a Bachelor’s in Aircraft Maintenance.

After gaining experience at a couple of other shops, he joined Dominion Aviation June 21, 2001, as a mechanic, then rose through subsequent years to lead mechanic and shop manager.

The Dominion Maintenance Department includes 15 mechanics, plus an office staff of five. When he joined Dominion, Hembree said, most of the customers were based here. Now the shop has added a sizeable group of customers who bring their airplanes from other parts of the state.

Hembree said his favorite part of the job is “working with customers and talking about their airplanes. I also enjoy talking with employees. I’m a people person.”

Near-term priorities, he said, begin with staffing up for expansion. Other projects in the works include adding a radio repair station certificate, so that Dominion can offer a full range of avionics service, and finalizing the single-engine Part 135 structure to offer air taxi services in a Cirrus.

Frank Wisnieski, 47, spent 23 years as an Air Force mechanic and crew chief, then worked as a Part 135 (charter) director of maintenance. He’s a CrossFit enthusiast and 5k runner and looks the part.

A Massachusetts native, he went from high school to the Air Force and learned his skills there. He maintained B-52s, B-1s, C-130s and KC-135s at stations all over the US and the world. Upon leaving the Air Force, he landed first at Dynamic Aviation, which operates a modification and maintenance center in Bridgewater, Virginia. He joined Dominion Aviation a month ago.

The regulations and procedures aren’t that different in civil and military aviation, he said, but the motivations are different. In the military “people do it for the love of country. The guys here do it because they love airplanes. The sense of pride in what they put out is awesome.”

As head of maintenance for Dominion’s charter department, he said, “I had to be vetted by the FAA to be on the Part 135 certificate. Fortunately, I’d gone through that in my last job.”

Wisnieski said he looks forward to adding airplanes to the charter fleet. His goals, he added, will always be “good service, quality maintenance and 100% dispatch reliability.”

 

 

A Memo from Mike

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By Mike Mickel, CEO, Dominion Aviation

Bill Chandler, who’s on the cover of this edition, has been my friend for 37 years. I met him when I was a 20-year-old flight instructor and Bill was moving up from a Cherokee 140 to a Bonanza.

Bill is an entrepreneur. He and his partners bought a series of paper-products plants and ran them successfully. They inspired me to launch my own venture, and that’s what led to the creation of Dominion Aviation, 35 years ago. I’m proud that Bill has been my customer and friend through that entire history.

You’ll also read in this edition about the reorganization of our maintenance department. By separating charter and general maintenance, we can assure each receives our full attention.

This is part of a restructuring of our company, to give it more institutional strength and make it less dependent on my involvement in every detail. It’s the natural maturing of an organization. Jimmy Hembree and Frank Wisnieski lead maintenance. Andy Hughes, who’s been our chief pilot for 17 years, is transitioning to the position of director of operations. Carl Gouaux, an experienced military aviator and Gulfstream pilot, will take over Andy’s role as chief pilot. We continue to rely on Bryan Smith as director of Cirrus operations and Kim Kessler as chief financial officer.

We’ve built a strong culture of safety, integrity and service. The team here is immersed in it and they’ll keep it strong – while freeing me to devote more time and energy to driving growth. This is a great team of great people, and it’s invigorating to work beside them.

Vacationing? Consider Flying Yourself!

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By Bryan Smith, Director of Cirrus Operations

Beep! Beep! Beep! 3:30 am comes early. That is about the time we needed to get up and make it to KRIC for a 5:30 am arrival time, for a 7:00 am American Airlines Flight to Miami. This was our first family vacation in three years. My brother and his family would be meeting my wife, my mother, and myself. The next day, we would head for North Eleuthera in the Bahamas. It is east of Nassau, and one of the easternmost secluded islands.

Eleuthera is isolated but has 3 very useful runways: North Eleuthera (ELH, MYEH 6000 ft), Governors Harbour (GHB, MYEM 8000 ft), and Rock Sound (RSD, MYER 7000 ft). I had originally been told that we would be on a twin Cessna Piston carrier, or maybe upgraded to a Cessna Caravan. I was bummed that we were on a 50 seat American Eagle ERJ. The flight from Miami was uneventful and the captain made a nice approach and landing, and aggressively applied brakes, heaving us into our seatbelts. It is always a bit weird for a commercial plane to make a 180 on the runway and back-taxi, but there is not a taxiway. Customs consisted of a single concrete structure about 10 feet wide. We cleared customs with a simple hello!

We had a week to explore, and we did see all 3 airports in passing several times. Rock Sound had a few large corporate style Gulfstreams, but was mostly quiet, while Governors Harbour did have a B737 BBJ, a WheelsUP Cessna XLS, and several smaller private jets. GHB had several general aviation planes, surprisingly with “N” tail numbers.  A few pipers, a few Cessna 182’s, and several Cirrus SR-22’s. I was delighted at the amount of GA activity. We saw several military style planes fly over this skinny stretch of island and a U.S. Coast Guard HH-60 Jayhawk.

After a relaxing week, we returned to North Eleuthera Airport for departure. That is when the anxiety started. They were insistent, upon exit from the American Eagle plane, we be there, “NO LESS THAN 2 HOURS PRIOR TO DEPARTURE.” We called the airport the day before, and they said the same thing. You do remember, that the building, customs, and x-ray is about 10 feet wide, right! Well, we did get there the 2 hours prior, and got checked in, and did a lot of waiting, but there was no seating. They reassured us upon check in that we were on time, and only had minutes to spare before possibly being denied the flight inside the 2-hour window. By the way, they said if we were Island hopping to Nassau then we could have arrived as the plane was taxing! I thought that was funny!

We did notice next door was an “FBO,” and even painted that on the roof. The FBO was hopping. They had 15 large corporate jets, Challengers, Gulfstreams, Hawkers, Cessna Excels and a few CJ3’s. They had just a few small GA planes, Cirrus and Piper. There were a few transient twin Cessna 421’s and even an old Aztec doing island hopping. Line service was professional, quick and efficient, certainly not on Bahamian time!

There was basic security screening and they do not honor TSA precheck. We had to go through Customs and TSA in Miami, which took hours. On the three commercial flights home, we experienced what I assume most travelers experience. Long lines for the bathrooms, sick adults coughing who do not cover their mouths, hit by EVERY person’s bag walking down the aisle, people and kids kicking the back of your seats, talking loudly on cell phones after the main cabin door has closed, texting and computer use at all times of the flight, and a fight to get to the next gate without getting run over by another person on the jetway.

Our day started at 9:00 am and ended at an exhausting 11:59 pm. A 15-hour travel day. Out of curiosity, I flight planned my day in our Cirrus SR-22. It was 5½ hours of flight time, plus a fuel stop and customs in Fort Pierce. The aircraft rental and fuel price would have been about 27% less than I paid for three tickets on American. Next Time, I’ll do it! Talk to a flight instructor and plan a trip somewhere fun today, it doesn’t have to be Eleuthera!

Safety Doesn’t End with Engine Shutdown

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By Carl Gouaux, Chief Pilot

Safety management doesn’t end when an airplane lands. It continues during taxi and after shutdown. In fact, it never ends.

If you think all the risks are in flight, consider this. Worldwide, an estimated 27,000 aircraft ground handling incidents occur every year and cost the industry about $4 billion annually. Safety is as important for the marshaler and the tug driver as for the pilot.

Here’s an example that we reviewed in a recent Safety Committee meeting. On March 26, 2017, at London’s Gatwick Airport, an EasyJet A320 loaded with 168 passengers and crew rolled backward and struck a stair truck. No one was hurt, but the airplane required an expensive repair to its fuselage and boarding door.

Prior to the accident, the wheels were chocked and the parking brake was set. So far, so good. Then a maintenance crew arrived to investigate a brake system defect. That required the parking brake be turned off. The technicians faithfully followed a written procedure, but the procedure said nothing about re-setting the parking brake upon completion. So the parking brake was left off.

The ground crew arrived, connected a tug and removed the chocks. This violated company procedures, which required leaving chocks in place until all ground equipment is clear. At that point the tug driver found his vehicle’s radio wasn’t working. With no communication with the flight crew, he disconnected the tug intending to replace it with another.

Now there was nothing to keep the airliner in place, and so backward it rolled. The flight crew applied foot brakes, but too late to avoid a costly mishap.

Like most accidents, this one involved a chain of errors. The maintenance procedure left the parking brake turned off. The tug driver didn’t communicate with the flight crew. The chocks were pulled prematurely and weren’t re-set before the tug was disconnected.

Almost any one of these errors, if removed, might have prevented the accident.

Safety requires recognizing that things can go wrong. Dominion Aviation’s safety team goes looking for hazards – on the ground as in the air – so that we can mitigate them before they cause a mishap. We welcome observations and suggestions from anyone, to make Richmond Executive Airport safe for all its users.

As Cirrus Fleet Grows, More Pilots Take Wing

Above: Donald Allen (right) with instructor Justin Eshelman

It’s not just your imagination. There’s a proliferation of Cirrus airplanes at FCI.

Donald Allen, a recent Cirrus purchaser, considered it an obvious choice. “Why wouldn’t you if you can,” he asked. With its airframe parachute, “It’s the safest plane out there by far.”

Dominion CEO Mike Mickel said customer demand drove the company’s investment in its all-Cirrus training and rental fleet. Pilots love them, he said, for their performance, safety and sophisticated electronics.

Dominion bought its first Cirrus Oct. 31, 2014. It was N83DA (the firm’s year of founding and initials), a 2003-model SR20. Mickel said it was originally a suggestion from Tony Nunes, Director of Maintenance and FBO Manager, to have a trainer for customers and employees.

“We wanted a late-model airplane because we thought that would appeal to our students and we wanted to strengthen our relationship with Cirrus,” Mickel explained. “People who are serious about flying and interested in becoming owners want the latest technology. They also want safety. These are simple airplanes, flown by relatively inexperienced pilots. Why not have the safety of the parachute?

“We bought our second one, N544CD, a 2005-model SR22, at the end of December, 2014. We bought it because a customer who needed a quick sale made us a good deal.

Now both those airplanes are scheduled for replacement with newer models with all-Garmin panels.

“It was only after the first of the year 2015 that we decided to go fully back into the flight school business,” Mickel continued. “A customer pushed us. He was buying a new SR20 with a Garmin panel and wanted a lease-back with us. Prior to that, I thought I had too many other things to do to start up a flight school. But we did it and it’s been successful. We now have about 35 active students and about 35 active renters in the Cirrus program.”

Earlier this year the flight school added a simulator, which not only replicates the performance of any generation Cirrus, but also the exact avionics. Pilots can practice approaches, deal with malfunctions and emergencies and even pull the parachute.

The first Cirrus joined the charter fleet this summer, providing a lower-priced charter option, as well as a chance for charter customers to experience the cockpit. Several have taken the next step and started their flight training.

They’re buying airplanes, too. In the last two years, Dominion has helped five customers buy new Cirrus airplanes.

Donald Allen was one of those. Allen describes himself as “semi-retired,” a former Wendy’s franchisee and homebuilder who spends the winter months in Naples, Florida.

“Once I made the commitment to get my pilot license,” he said, “I decided I’m going to buy an airplane.” Now he trains in his own SR22 and is on the verge of earning his instrument rating.

“I can’t wait to get the instrument rating so that I can fly to Texas to go hunting with my buddies or fly to Greensboro to visit my two daughters there,” he said.

“I have at least one son in law who’s expressed serious interest in learning to fly. He has 12-year-old twins, so I’m encouraging him for safety reasons alone to get a Cirrus.”

Allen said he’s also sold on Dominion’s flight school. Starting his training in Florida, “I had 10 or 11 different instructors, mainly because they turn over so fast there.” Here, he trains with Justin Eshelman, who, he said, is “an excellent instructor, very professional and very patient.”

The Cirrus growth is good for the airport, Mickel said. “We’re putting airplanes in the T-hangars, we’re initiating new pilots, we’re pumping more fuel and we’re servicing more airplanes.

“And for me,” he added, “it’s reinvigorated my passion for flying. It brings back the fun of stick-and-rudder flying in a single-engine airplane, and combines that with the mental challenge of mastering the very latest in avionics. Those panels are so capable that after you learn to do the basics, you can keep learning new tricks as you go. The new Cirrus models have better avionics than many modern jets.”

Now Dominion is upgrading its Cirrus fleet. For training, the company deploys two identical SR20s, both 2015 models with G1000 panels. The 2005-model SR22 is scheduled for replacement.

Dec. 1, the company will add a 2017 SR22 turbo for charter and limited rental, with very strict pilot requirements.

On the horizon is the Vision Jet, which Cirrus just began delivering. Mickel said three of his customers have delivery positions.

“We want to become a service center for the jet, and we’re well prepared. We’re thoroughly familiar with the Williams jet engine. Our pilots have been flying them on other jets, and our shop has been maintaining them. We’ll have a staff of experienced mentor pilots ready to help new owners in their transition.”

This is a new kind of airplane. It’s not as fast or high-flying as a conventional jet, but it’s simple to operate and designed for a safe and easy transition from the SR22. With appropriate training, it’s designed as an affordable and insurable option for the upper tier of owner-pilot.

With its piston-powered singles, and perhaps with its new, simple jet, Cirrus has created a segment of the general aviation market and found ways to make it grow. Almost 40% of all domestic deliveries of new single-engine piston aircraft in 2016 were Cirrus Aircraft.