Flight training school experiences big growth

Allen Mathews, left, and Pat Carlile have quadrupled the staff at Peak Aviation Center in eight years.

Allen Mathews, left, and Pat Carlile have quadrupled the staff at Peak Aviation Center in eight years.

Peak Aviation Center, through the acquisition of two aircraft over the past several months, has grown rapidly to become the county’s largest civilian flight instruction school.

Since beginning in 2006 with four employees and 2,000 annual flight training hours, owners Allen Mathews and Pat Carlile have grown the operation to 16 employees, 4,000 flight training hours and the only airplane detailing business in the region, Mathews said.

Referring to a study conducted by Boeing projecting worldwide pilot shortages, Mathews said earning a civilian pilot’s license can be the first step to a high-demand career in commercial airlines.

The Boeing study estimated demand over the next 20 years at more than a half-million new commercial pilots and approximately 600,000 maintenance technicians.

“Pilots are in high demand, in Asia especially,” Mathews said, adding some pilots earn their licenses domestically and find work internationally. “Airlines are doing well and there’s growing demand for new pilots as Vietnam-era pilots are being forced to retire.”

Mathews said private pilot licenses can be obtained for $7,000 — on the low end — if the student is able to devote a couple sessions a day for several weeks to training.

“If you only fly once a week, it will cost you more,” Mathews said.

According to Carlile, the flight school has modified its business plan within the last year to add an additional aircraft each year to meet demand.

Mathews said being based in a military community makes marketing even easier.

“Marketing can be funny,” Mathews said. “The majority of people who come in are referrals or they did an Internet search. Media marketing doesn’t really work for us.”

In addition, Peak Aviation Center sold more than 1,000 Groupons for a free lesson, exposing potential customers to the joys of flying, Mathews said.

The vast majority of business comes from flight training, but Peak Aviation also has an aircraft detailing arm and Carlile and Mathews are regional dealers of Flight Design USA light sport aircraft. Peak Aviation also provides rental aircraft and sells pilot supplies.

Peak Aviation Center has benefited from community support since it began eight years ago, largely because of the support Peak Aviation has provided to the community.

Carlile and Mathews also operate High Hopes for Colorado, a 501(c)3 Mathews created, which introduces at-risk and disadvantaged Colorado Springs youths to aviation.

Peak Aviation Center also works with the Wounded Warrior Project, providing veterans an outlet.

“We have [a soldier from the Wounded Warrior Project] who was injured by an [improvised explosive device] in Afghanistan,” Mathews said. “I spoke with his commander. [The soldier] was pretty despondent and upset with the Army. Now he shows up an hour before his training, he’s excited about flying and he’s looking into an aviation career. He’s made a 180-degree turn and he’s focused.”

There have also been success stories thanks to High Hopes. The operation’s detail crew recently hired a former gang member who was connected with Mathews and Carlile while a detainee at Zebulon Pike Youth Services Center.

“We teamed with Southern Colorado Youth for Christ and they selected kids who were incarcerated who we introduced to aviation,” Mathews said. “They go through a ground school program with Sky West pilots on their time off, and we provide incentives [including] orientation flights at the conclusion of their training.”

More information about Peak Aviation Center can be found online at http://www.cospilot.com.

More information about High Hopes for Colorado can be found online at http://www.highhopesforteens.org.

More information about the Wounded Warrior Project can be found online at http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org.