The story of Rodger Pridgeon, President and Founder of Corporate Air Inc., and how he successfully transitioned from employee to business owner, is one that showcases the dream of most technicians turned entrepreneurs. With hard work, dedication and a clear vision, he made “the jump” and, over the past 30 plus years, has built a well-respected and well-known FBO (Fixed Base Operator) serving Vero Beach and the surrounding areas. Pridgeon shared the story behind his journey and how, even after three decades in business, his hunger and passion for delivering exceptional results and growing his business is stronger than ever.
“I grew up in western New York State, just south of Buffalo,” he said. “I went to school there to become an aircraft maintenance technician. After I graduated in 1977, I got hired by Chautauqua Airlines. I spent a year in Jamestown, NY, before being transferred to Lakeland, FL. I was there for about a year before I was transferred to Vero Beach.”
Pridgeon spent the next eight years learning the ins and outs of the aircraft maintenance business and gained valuable experience. As the Director of Maintenance, he was responsible for overseeing the maintenance and safety of three aircraft. By 1986, however, it was clear to Pridgeon that his days as an employee for Chautauqua Airlines were numbered.
“I knew they were planning to move out of Vero and close the office,” he said. “At that point, I decided to start my own business providing aircraft maintenance. At first, it was just something I grew on the side. That overlap went on for about a year until they officially closed the Vero Beach office.”
Pridgeon continued, “Even though I knew it was going to happen, when it finally did, I was scared to death. It was the first time I had to live on the money I was making. Fortunately I was hungry and determined to make it work. In my mind, I had no other choice.”
For the first several years, Pridgeon was a one-man show. He wore many hats and worked long hours with little downtime. After a few years, as business picked up and more capital was available for expansion, he hired a few employees and expanded his services to include fueling, hangar space and charters.
“Things really took off after 9/11,” he said. “We saw a big boom in our fuel business and eventually got up to four hangars – offering over 50,000 square feet of space. Since then, we’ve easily quadrupled our size. Along the way, we also became a full-service FBO with services and amenities that include Ground Power Unit (GPU), large and convenient ramp area, pilots lounge, conference room, concierge services and more.”
Pridgeon’s latest challenge, like most entrepreneurs, has been dealing with the ramifications of COVID-19. As he shared, the pandemic initially sent up some red flags. Fortunately, however, the situation has created a new customer base interested in private air travel.
“For those that can afford it, they’re opting for private charters,” he said. “After one of the worst Aprils we’ve had in history, things came back with a vengeance in June. We think this trend will continue into the foreseeable future.”
When it comes to future growth, Pridgeon shared that a U.S. Customs facility is being built at the Vero Beach Airport. The building will be constructed by Corporate Air with no government grants. It will be located adjacent to their new FBO terminal and available for the general public to use.
What advice does Pridgeon have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “It’s important to be passionate about what you do,” he said. “You also need to enjoy it. Along the way, you’ll have many bumps and obstacles. Never give up. Put in that extra work. If you just apply the basic principles of working hard and never giving up, it will pay dividends.”