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Front Page » May 29, 2003 » Business Journal » The business of soaring through the skies
Published 3,978 days ago

The business of soaring through the skies


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By KEN LARSON
Sun Advocate publisher

Mark Francis, owner of Redtail Aviation, stands by one of his charter planes in the main hanger at the Carbon County Airport. Francis' company acts as the fixed base operator at the airport and provides a variety of services to those who utilize the facility.

There are a million stories about how businesses begin. Some are inherited and evolve. Others spring out of a good idea that has legs. Some are created just for the money they make. Other businesses grow out of a hobby which a person or group of people love and they turn into a profit center.

For Mark Francis, one business he owned led to another. For years he was in the computer consulting and telecommunications business, traveling all over the nation. He found that because of the places he had to go and the schedules he had to be on, using the commercial airlines to do the traveling was not the best way to get where he wanted to go.

"Flying myself in my own plane was a good way to get my business done," he stated seated in his office at the Carbon County Airport. "Soon my love became flying and this company grew out of that."

The company he is talking about has been called Arrow West Aviation, something he and his wife Amy bought in the 1990's. Soon, because of some confusion people have had with the name of another business in the state, it will become Red Tail Aviation.

Small community airports are interesting places. They often hold many private aircraft, yet during the week they seem deserted to the casual and transient bystander. They are also often managed by a resident aircraft charter service, called an FBO (fixed base operator). That is the case at the Carbon County Airport, where Francis not only operates his charter service (for business, personal and scenic flights) but also has a flight training school (which he also coordinates through the College of Eastern Utah's program), a repair and maintenance service for aircraft, a fueling service and a airplane rental business.

Francis took over at the Carbon Airport in 1998 and in July of 2000, he also took over the as the FBO at the Canyonlands Airport in Grand County.

"It's very interesting," he said as he looked out the window at the construction that is being done on a taxiway at the Carbon facility. "The mechanic we have working for us works around here in the morning until the United Postal Service plane arrives, they off load their packages and they go onto Vernal and he flies the packages for Moab to Canyonlands. Then he works around there the rest of the day, and flies back here at night to go home."

So there's another aspect of the business, freight. All during the interview process for this article, additional services the airport and Francis' company delivers to the area kept popping up.

Most people who live in Carbon County have either never been to the local airport or have only been there during one of the air shows that were held a few years ago. But the facility is very important to the area, and Francis and his company are right in the middle of those dealings.

"We have many corporate jets that fly in here every week for industry and companies," he said as he began his inspection of the plane we were about to take up. "And then there are private planes that land for fuel and other services. We have even had a couple of emergency landings here, including one where a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird that had a cracked cockpit canopy came down for cautionary purposes."

The question is, even with all these duties and services, can a small air related business make it in this area. Francis thinks so and says he wants to expand the business. He feels he can do that if the local community understands what it is his company does.

"One of the things we make some money on are the scenic flights over Arches and Canyonlands National Parks out of the Canyonlands Airport," he noted as he loaded the passengers into the aircraft. "I think that is also a viable option here. The flight over the San Rafael Swell and reef is a tremendous trip in a small airplane and I feel we can become a larger part of the tourist base in this community if people know that we provide that service.'

Amazingly it isn't that expensive either. Depending on the trip, with two passengers, scenic flights that last over an hour only cost $99 per person.

"It isn't as easy a sell as Canyonlands, but for those that go, it is well worth it," he said as he began to taxi the plane down the runway for takeoff.

Crystal McGuire, part of Redtail Aviations ground support crew, fuels a plane at the Carbon County Airport before takeoff.

At present the company owns six airplanes at the airport; two for training and rental flights, one for pure rental and three for charter and scenic flights. Redtail Aviation employs seven people from the Carbon County area, including three pilots, with the rest being office staff and ground support personnel.

The airport presently houses about 25 total aircraft, most owned by private individuals.

Other companies and agencies also use the airport extensively. American Check (a bank check dispatch company) flies in daily to service the local financial institutions. The Civil Air Patrol keeps a plane at the airport ready to conduct searches when needed. The air ambulance service and medivac also use the facility.

"During the fire season we also help to support aircraft from various agencies that fight fires in the area and other places nearby," stated Francis as the plane left the runway and soared over the east Price area.

Amongst it's three runways the Carbon County Airport sports the third longest runway in the state (it used to be second until recently when the Provo Airport expanded theirs) with an 8300 foot length. It is long and big enough to accommodate some fairly large planes.

"We have landed Gulfstream Fives here," said Francis as the aircraft passed over a field in Miller Creek where the John Deere tractor plowing a field there looked like a hot wheels toy. "Those aircraft exceed 100,000 lbs."

Francis says that people have the perception that charter aircraft is very expensive, but he notes that when one considers everything, often, when flying a group of people, a small aircraft is actually less expensive.

"When you look at the time involved in going to a major airport, having to pay for parking, and all the inconveniences involved in it, this is a very good alternative," he mentioned as he turned the aircraft to soar down the length of the San Rafaels "little Grand Canyon."

Francis reports a fairly good business in charter flights, but says most of his business in that area still comes from the other side of the mountain. He would like to see that part of the business grow locally too.

But his idea of scenic flights out of Carbon County over the San Rafael is still what he thinks could not only benefit his business, but many others in the area.

Taking a flight out of the airport is much different than flying over the area in an airliner that is landing in Salt Lake. The craft that Francis uses for tours will hold up to five people (besides the pilot) and is very comfortable. He provides everyone with a headset so that communication between everyone in the plane is simple and clear. He, and the other pilot he has do the flights, give a detailed description of the areas the plane is flying over, some geology, some history and some folklore.

Besides that, flying over the swell gives everyone a chance to see such sights as Hondoo Arch, Swaseys Leap and other notable places in the area, even if they are incapable or don't have the time to hike there themselves.

One notable feature that looks very different from the air than it does from the ground is the San Rafael Reef itself. The view from the plane as it crosses over Spotted Wolf Canyon, where I-70 was blasted through the reef in the early 1970's is particularly impressive.

The entire scenic flight experience seemed to be too much fun to be work for Francis as he smiled the entire time.

"When I moved into this business I think I found my retirement job," he stated as he touched the plane down on the Carbon runway after the flight.


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