Fast 5: Need For Pilot Training And MRO Consulting
Teresa Ortega, a commercially rated pilot and 25-year Textron Aviation veteran, founded Wichita-based Ortega Aviation Services with her flight instructor husband, Kirby Ortega, a former Textron Aviation chief pilot for piston engine operations, in 2018. She talks with Molly McMillan about the company's evolution from initially offering classroom training.
You opened Ortega Aviation Services to offer live classroom pilot training and aircraft maintenance consulting. What spurred the decision?
I learned to fly, and then there was a big gap in my flying, because when I started doing my instrument rating, I was really struggling with the course content. All that was available were online courses. So, I did two weekend courses for an organization that came into Wichita quarterly. That didn’t work out. After constant repetition and pain, I made it through. A live classroom experience would have made it much easier. When Kirby and I wanted to open Aviation Services, we wanted to have an opportunity for people to be able to be in a classroom, to have that feedback with an instructor and to be able to have that feedback with the other students. We were able to have that total interaction and live classroom experience here at the school, which it’s how it started. We start with the bare bones of private pilot training and we can take you all the way through your commercial ratings, both on the ground and in the air. When we started, we didn’t have airplanes. Now we have three. We have two (Cessna) 172S models and a brand-new Piper Pilot 100i. We also have four simulators.
You since have grown and added a number of additional services. How has the business expanded?
From there, it has morphed. We are now crewing jets for people. We crew for several high-visibility entrepreneurs. I do a program called the Guardian program, which is essentially supporting what I did on the aftermarket side at Textron. It’s a big part of what I do on a day-to-day basis. I sanitize, if you will, the accounting program and maintenance events for Citation owners and operators. The Guardian program is now huge. That was never in the mix at first. People who have owned these airplanes have started coming to us with their invoices and saying, ‘Why am I paying this? For example, if you’ve got a big maintenance event, you want to make sure that you’ve maximized your dollars that you’ll be spending to maintain that aircraft. We ensure that if you’ve got a maintenance program or if you’ve got a warranty, everything is charged where it should be charged, and that the customer is ultimately not going to be responsible for something that they shouldn’t. I am their advocate or their liaison.
Are you seeing an increase in demand for flight training?
Yes, particularly on the jet ownership side. We’ve seen (Cessna) 206s and some high-wing airplanes, some training in (Cessna) Corvalis that they’ve purchased. But primarily, it’s on the jet side. You see people stepping up from that (Citation) Mustang into that CJ1 or CJ2 or CJ3 or CJ4. So, we’re doing differences training on those things. As of Christmas 2020, we had put 83 private pilots through our private pilot course. And then we had COVID, and we just haven’t slowed down for COVID. When we had to close our doors, we did. But we have social distancing and all of the necessary things. We’re vaccinated. We’ve done everything that we could do to keep people feeling comfortable in this environment to ensure everybody remains safe.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to continue with the Guardian program, but we’re going to expand that into what’s going to be called Guardian Plus–managing more airplanes and having more teams on board, too. I’m going to be talking to their maintenance people. I’m going to be managing the whole side. We’ll just wrap our arms around them and make sure they’re comfortable and secure. And then we’ll fly their airplane, and we’ll take care of everything else. The requests and the demand are coming already. One thing we’re going to do is continue to work through the designated examiner side of things. We’ll do a lot of the annual 6158s, which is the annual check ride that’s required for the jet services. We are adding a photo platform to do air-to-air photography. Kirby does formation flying and he's training others to do it. We work with top-notch photographers.
What has been the most satisfying part of the business for you?
There are nights when we have classes and I stay here late. When I pull out of the parking lot, the lights are on in both classrooms. I’m pulling away and the classrooms are full, and we’re changing lives. These are young kids that are barely old enough to solo to people who are realizing their dreams at 50 years old. They’re going to be people who are going to go fly for the airlines; they are going to support their families. They’re going to go places they’ve never been able to go before. They’re going to do things that they never thought they could do. When I pull away, it’s a very emotional moment for me. What we do matters.