Learn about Florida Entrepreneur Faith Drewry and Lacey Smith:
Faith Drewry and Lacey Smith, owners of FL Aviation Center, met while attending a local meeting for aviation enthusiasts. They quickly became friends and recognized a need in the community to create a supportive environment that made aviation fun and accessible for everyone. What started with two planes and three instructors has now turned into an FAA certified flight school with five planes and a dozen instructors that was recently recognized, by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, as number one in customer satisfaction of all flight schools in the Southeast.
"We didn't really set out to start a flight school," Drewry said. "Lacey and I both had our private pilot license and wanted to get our instrument ratings, but couldn't really find a good place with the right equipment to do it. She and I talked about it and decided to buy an airplane together to do our training. A lot of the local flight instructors then started telling us that they wanted to instruct in our plane. We looked into the legalities and what it would take to allow other people to teach in it. Tallahassee airport’s policy said you need two planes to start a flight school. One of our instructor friends knew someone who had a plane they wanted to lease, so we ended up working out a deal with him to lease the second plane we needed."
Smith, who previously worked as a customer service manager at Tallahassee's Fixed Base Operator (FBO) knew about a rundown office space sitting empty. She worked a deal to trade renovation work for a part of the rent, making it affordable if she and Drewry did their own renovations. They held painting parties and friends came out of the woodwork to help out. They received at cost or donated wall paper, carpet, and decorations, and the whole thing started to come together. "People were really excited to support what we were doing," Drewry said.
An early challenge, Smith and Drewry faced when they launched their business, was being taken seriously. "Only 6% of pilots are women," Drewry said. "We heard all the comments about us being women and doing something uncommon, but we just stayed focused and blocked out the naysayers.” Other challenges centered around funding and certification. Drewry explained, "At a certain point, we realized that we needed an additional plane. We had a great business plan and pitched our story to a local community bank. They ended up giving us a line of credit that allowed us to expand our operations. That never would have happened with a major national bank. Another big challenge was becoming a certified flight school. We had to buy a specific type of plane to allow us to do more advanced training. The FAA Certification Part 141 holds you to a higher standard and also allows us to work with the Veterans Administration to provide training for military veterans."
Drewry and Smith built a flight school, but they also built a culture and a community of like-minded individuals that love aviation. "We set out to build a place where people on the outside of the fence looking in and wondering about aviation life would feel welcomed," Drewry said. "You'll never meet a better group of people. Richard Branson would just be another dude at an aviation convention."
Looking ahead, Drewry and Smith are working over the next few years to partner with a college or university to offer their services in conjunction with a degree program. There's a massive pilot shortage and they intend to position themselves as the premier flight school in Tallahassee capable of training the next generation of up-and-coming pilots. The pair is also working on a new five year plan after recently reviewing their original five year plan and marveling at how many goals they've achieved. "Lacey and I do a yearly corporate retreat where we review our past goals and set future ones."
What advice does Drewry have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "We would not have survived if we quit our day jobs," she said. "We both burnt the candle at both ends for quite some time. Also, before you do anything, write a good business plan and get a mentor to go through it with you. We actually had five people, all with either entrepreneurship or aviation experience, go through ours. Remember, just because you make a mean pie doesn't mean you should open a bakery."
PLEASE MENTION YOU READ MY STORY ON FLVEC.COM WHEN YOU CALL, VISIT OR MESSAGE ME. THANKS!