When the only flight instruction school and rental aircraft facility suddenly closes, what are the affects to the airport, airport vendors, control tower, pilots and the City?
My cell phone chirped and I checked the text message. It was from the Modesto Flight Center (MFC) advising that my flight for the next day was cancelled. How could this happen? Who slipped up and either bumped me or completely dropped the ball? Checking my computer to see what had happened to my reservation I noticed an email from the owner of the flight center; not a common event.
The long and short of it was that the next day would be its last business day. Even the website was no longer in service. I called two of the flight instructors but they had no knowledge that the next day was to be their last day of employment. Still stunned, I asked what would happen without rental aircraft to fly for pleasure or business or keep flight skills current or the students who took out loans to complete their qualifications? Lots of questions without immediate answers.
The flight center’s closing had a ripple effect throughout the airport. Services greatly impacted included fixed wing SEL training, rotary training (Robinson), simulator training, ground school, CATS Testing, Flight Education Financing (Career Training Loan), FAA Certified Examiner, aircraft rental, aircraft sales, specialized services (charter, survey,scenic flights), aircraft maintenance, airframe and power plant, inspection authority, pilot supplies, Cessna Pilot Center, aircraft dealer (Trade Winds Aviation), partner programs (Eagle Jet International Employment Training/Lo Presti Partner), aircraft financing (SLM Financial) and pilot lounge. Many flight instructors, office personnel, aircraft mechanics, and others were instantly unemployed. And that was just the beginning.
Quantifiable losses were suffered including monthly rental fees for office space, hangar space and tie downs, aviation fuel flowage fees, aircraft property taxes, maintenance and inspection of the fleet of rental aircraft and lower operational traffic counts by the control tower to name just a few. The City of Modesto had to respond to the flight school closure, reviewing and enforcing the contractual language, particularly in light of a potential bankruptcy, and working with the coordinating financial organization.
Addressing the absence of flight school training,the airport staff worked closely with several municipal divisions in the preparation and distribution of a formal Request for Qualifications and Request for Proposal packages. All of this on top of a downward spiraling economy had its devastating effect. Saturday lunch at the MFC had been a long-standing tradition. Despite the closure of the flight center the lunches were continued by former owners and flight instructors and held in the Commemorative Air Force hangar next door. A larger than normal group of the aviation community attended and between the tri-tip sandwiches, salads and sodas discussions, plans and ideas were formed towards opening a new flight school.
Support and encouragement came from many sources, principally the Modesto Airport Pilots Association, Central California Valley Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, airport vendors, control tower staff and the airport manager. History has shown that when one door closes another one opens and after months of struggles, fits and starts and all the hoops one has to jump through, that other door just opened. August 1st will mark the opening of Modesto Aviation (MA), a new and improved flight school and rental aircraft facility owned and operated by many of those previously employed at MFC. It’s not the end all-be all of flying utopia, but it’s a start.