Dream business of two alumni takes flight
Published: Sunday, May 31, 2009
Updated: Sunday, May 31, 2009 17:05
While many businesses are letting employees go and cutting benefits, two UCF graduates have taken advantage of the economic times. Sales seem to be soaring for the entrepreneurs who opened a sport pilot training center May 1.
"So far we have sold a little over 40 hours," Chris Esposito, 24, co-owner of First Landings Aviation said. "We are off to a good start."
Adam Valencic, 23, also co-owns First Landings Aviation at the Orlando-Apopka Airport, which is the first full-time sport pilot training center in Central Florida.
"Adam approached me with the idea, and I swapped my cubicle for a cockpit and here I am," Esposito said. "I love it."
Sport pilot training is young in the aviation world, according to Esposito.
"It is pretty new, only three or four years old," Esposito said.
The sport pilot certificate is a simplified version of the private pilot certificate.
The sport pilot rating was designed by the Federal Aviation Administration in an attempt to make flying more accessible, according to Esposito.
"It is for good weather flying," Esposito said. "You don't fly at night or during bad weather."
Typical private pilot certificates require 40 hours of fly time in comparison to the sport pilot rating, which has a minimum of 20.
"If you wanted, you could knock it out in about two weeks but everyone learns at a different pace," Esposito said. "Once the flying bug hits you are helpless."
Popularity for the program is in part fueled by the state of the economy, according to Valencic.
"A lot of people say, ‘I don't have $8,000 to spend right now,' and our program is only about $3,000," Valencic said.
Valencic and Esposito are not relying on popularity alone. They are aggressively promoting their business.
"We are really getting our name out there during this first quarter," Valencic said.
While some Central Florida businesses have cut back on advertising budgets, First Landings Aviation is utilizing as many platforms as possible.
The company has purchased marketing materials such as banners, brochures, rack-cards, mailers and fliers. When they are not training their students, they are attending networking events to gain new clients.
First Landings Aviation's drive to succeed comes from their love of flying, according to Valencic.
"I love it," Valencic said. "It is a lot of freedom — all my friends are sitting in cubicles while I'm doing what I love."
The friends of six years imagined their dream business while attending UCF, Esposito said. Esposito graduated in 2006 with a degree in political science while Valencic finished in 2008 with a degree in business finance.
"We kind of owe UCF for the connections we made," Esposito said.
The two entered the annual Sunshine State Venture Challenge with the idea for a sport pilot flight school.
"The first time we entered, we placed fourth," Valencic said. "It was hard to explain our idea to the judges."
The business plan did catch the attention of one of the semifinalist judges, Blaine Sweatt, according to Valencic.
"Sweatt thought it was a great idea," Valencic said.
Sweatt was unavailable for comment in time for publication.
The duo entered their business plan the following year and placed second.
"If you won it, you won $5,000," Valencic said. "But we still had not won, so we were still broke."
By this time, Sweatt liked the business idea so much he wanted to be the main investor, according to Valencic.
"He called us and asked us to come meet with him," Valencic said. "If it were not for UCF, I would be working in a cubicle."