Growing up, Andrew Chan, Co-owner of Right Rudder Aviation, was always fascinated with aviation. As a kid, he aspired to be an astronaut. As a student studying Business at The University of Central Florida (UCF), Chan got his pilot's certificate. However, during his college years, Chan came to the realization that his passion wasn't necessarily flying. He was more interested in the business side of the aviation industry. As such, he launched his first business buying and selling used aircraft.
"The first plane I bought was $6,000," Chan said. "I fixed it up and sold it for $40,000. I reinvested the profits and did it again. I bought and sold about six in one year. This was all before I graduated from college."
Chan's second aviation business, and his first flight school, was the product of a senior class project. The assignment was to create a business, along with a business plan, and present it to the class. Chan's idea was very well received. In fact, he did such a great job he was selected to represent UCF on a national level. He didn't win that competition, but he did place second and, more importantly, he caught the eyes of a judge. The judge happened to be a pilot and he agreed to help fund Chan's flight school.
Chan later sold his equity in the original flight school to his former partner and spent three years with JetBlue as a Program Manager. Chan managed $50 million in revenue and oversaw programs from conceptual design to engineering and customer delivery. After reaching the peak potential of his position with JetBlue, Chan was ready to move on.
"I spent some time working with my former partner at the original flight school," he said. "I expressed an interest in having an equity stake in the company and he wasn't interested. That's when I reached out to Charles Lawson, a good friend of mine and a fraternity brother from college, about starting a new flight school. He's an accountant by trade, someone with experience running a business and, most importantly, someone I could trust. He was all in."
Right Rudder Aviation was founded in August 2016. The original location was in Lake County at the Eustis Airport. As Chan shared, the upfront costs were minimal and the location was ideal. However, after proving the model successful, Chan and Lawson were in search of an even bigger opportunity.
"We wanted to become a Fixed-based operator (FBO)," Chan said. "As an FBO, the growth potential is exponentially greater. However, it's a very competitive marketplace and becoming an FBO would normally require you to buy out a competitor at a cost of $1 to $6 million. After doing our research, we discovered that Inverness was looking for a new FBO. Apparently the old one was being evicted. After an extensive bidding process, that included submitting a 120 page document and a public competition, we were awarded the FBO contract at Inverness Airport."
Right Rudder Aviation is your one stop for everything aviation. As the Fixed Base Operation (FBO) at the Inverness Airport (KINF), Right Rudder Aviation provides aircraft parking and storage, fueling, sales and maintenance. Other sources of revenue include parts, rentals and flight training. Right Rudder Aviation is also the largest and most prolific tailwheel flight school in the world. Most tailwheel aircraft are considered "vintage", which makes them unique.
According to Chan, Citrus County has been great to work with. "They're very pro-business," he said. "They're also open to growth and friendly to small businesses. We're happy to be part of this community and we're excited about creating new jobs and training new pilots. We started with one airplane and two employees. Today, we have 15 employees and about 10 airplanes."
Looking ahead, Chan and Lawson have a goal to become one of the largest businesses in Citrus County and to enable everyone who wants to fly the ability to do so. Their creative programs allow budget minded individuals easier access to aviation. Within the next two years, they anticipate having 20 to 30 planes. According to Chan, ultimately having a fleet of 50 planes is not out of the question.
Chan shared what he enjoys most about owning and operating a flight school. "Witnessing a student safely fly an airplane by themselves for the first time is the best part of what we do," he said. "Watching our students graduate and get hired with six figure salaries also puts a smile on our face."
What advice does Chan have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Persistence," he said. "It is the essence of true entrepreneurship. Establish your goals and keep at it until you achieve them. Also, find a good mentor and listen to their advice."
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