TECHNOLOGY | December 4-10, 2015
By Marissa Nall
For a company with only 15 airplanes, Santa Barbara-based Silver Air has had an impact regionally and throughout the aviation industry.
The charter jet management company has developed both a distinctive management philosophy and a flight management software that digitizes a previously paper-reliant process.
“We really have a strong emphasis on oversight as opposed to doing (work which is contracted out),” said Jason Middleton, CEO and co-founder of the company. “It gives us a lot of flexibility to take an airplane to the very best people in the business. That’s sort of the differentiator with us.”
Silver Air manages planes for private owners and charters them out when they’re not in use. Started by Middleton and Chief Financial Officer James Maxwell out of a storage room in Santa Barbara Airport in the midst of the recession, the company has always operated under lean conditions and incorporated technology that has since become an industry standard for compliance with Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
Instead of providing fuel, housing and maintenance directly for their clients’ planes, Silver Air contracts out all of its services to find the best fit for each owner, charter client or aircraft.
“We don’t want a thousand clients, we want 25 but we want to be the best for them,” said Chuck Stumpf, executive vice president of business development. “We’ve taken what all these other management companies are doing and streamlined it, refining these different elements and delivering consistency.”
After a year of restructuring, Silver Air is going into growth mode. It moved into a new office on State Street for its Santa Barbara operations and hired new pilots, bringing it up to 60-plus employees in the county and at their satellite locations.
“We’re a small company and we’re keeping it that way,” Middleton said. “We want to have a very, very high level of customer service. With us, the pilots know who you are, you’ve seen them before and they know the airplane.”
Middleton is himself a pilot and considers his flight teams to be his eyes and ears. Security is also strengthened when operations are more efficient, he said, and it enables the company to comply more easily with FAA regulations.
“This industry, we can’t really skimp,” he said. “We can’t cut things because airplanes still need fuel to fly, we still have to maintain them and the FAA is watching over us like a hawk. You’ve got to do it all, so it made us very efficient.”
Incorporating technology increases safety and transparency, said Silver Air Chief Pilot Anders Hostmark.
“It’s a completely seamless system of determining the airworthiness of the aircraft and communications between all the different departments,” Hostmark said. “Scalability is a big issue here and you need to be able to scale it up. Being able to utilize that system, I’m in immediate contact with everybody.”
Screens in the Santa Barbara ops office, the main hub of activity, display flight schedules, weather and news to alert them if they need to reroute a jet.
Replacing the usual two or three rooms of files, flight logs and maintenance records is Silver Air’s own technology, FlightPro135. The program can also schedule and dispatch flights and keep updated manuals, training materials and resources available to employees.
“This is a very paper-oriented business, which means a lot of man-hours and it’s also very inaccurate to have paper everywhere,” Middleton said. “A lot could go wrong so we just developed a digital solution for it.”
Spun off as its own company, FlightPro135 allows four levels of access — administrator, manager, flight crew and optional direct access by FAA inspectors.
“It streamlines things and gives us a phenomenal rapport with the FAA,” Stumpf said. “Anytime you’re a private company dealing with a government agency, it’s of paramount importance to have a good relationship.”
As a manager of assets valued at $20 million or more, it’s important to keep a strong relationship with the clients and the community, Middleton said.
“That’s one thing you can’t mechanize,” Stumpf said. “It’s nice that we’re a very young, nimble, tech-savvy group with this old-fashioned outlook and values.”
The company recently took part in the Santa Barbara 100 cycling race, an annual nonprofit event that raises funds for local charities like Cottage Children’s Medical Center, Emory Foundation, the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition and the Andrew Popp Memorial Scholarship Program.
An avid cyclist and previous professional triathlete, Middleton helped redesign and rebrand the event, hoping to draw in more participation from the international cycling community. Santa Barbara has one of the most well-known bike climbs worldwide and Silver Air worked to add a VIP experience to those who participated in the charity event.
“It’s not just a marketing thing, it’s really, really important to me,” he said. “I wanted to tie all the stuff that’s important to me into one thing. That is how I market in Santa Barbara. It’s not about putting ads out, it’s about being involved in something you’re passionate about.”
The company is expanding into Oakland and San Jose and has plans to open an office in Teterboro, New Jersey but the operations center will always remain in Santa Barbara.
Middleton said they are looking for “local talent” as they expand.
“It’s a small beautiful area but from our side of the business, we’re a worldwide company,” Stumpf said.