Company spins off flight training; focuses on charters, sales

Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - Max Lyons, owner and president of Hillsboro Aviation, started with the company in 1988.After more than 20 years of scrambling to grow his aviation business, Max Lyons recently decided to ease up on the throttle and slow the pace a bit.

In a deal finalized in late November, Lyons — longtime owner and president of Hillsboro Aviation — agreed to sell one of the company’s three primary business groups: the flight training operation.

Lyons said Hillsboro Aviation, which is based at the Hillsboro Airport on Northeast Cornell Road, will continue to operate its charter operations as well as its sales and service division, while the flight training sector will be reconstituted as a new company called Hillsboro Aero Academy.

The flight training business was sold to Renovus Capital Partners and Graycliff Partners, investors that focus on providing capital to companies they believe have high growth potential. Renovus invests in “businesses within the education sector, including educational institutions and companies that provide these institutions with technology, content and services,” while Graycliff connects with companies led by “entrepreneurial management teams, providing capital for acquisitions, management buyouts, recapitalizations, growth and expansion,” according to information on the companies' websites.

The newly spun-off company, which will remain based in Hillsboro, will provide professional pilot training to domestic and international students with training operations based at three Oregon locations: Hillsboro, Troutdale and Prineville.

"We have managers on site in each of our remote campuses who report to the senior management in Hillsboro," said Jon Hay, general manager of Hillsboro Aero Academy. "The U.S. is the world-recognized leader in flight training. Most foreign countries do not have the safety experience, flight operations infrastructure or affordable flight training schools to train their own pilots, so many students come to the U.S. for their training."

Lyons, who joined Hillsboro Aviation in 1988 and took over management of the business in 1992, said he had not been actively seeking to sell.

“Through the years, I’ve been approached numerous times with offers to sell the company,” he explained last week. “As the economy has improved, there has been an increase in offers.”

Lyons said that after meeting with representatives from Graycliff and Renovus, he had a good feeling about the direction they were pursuing.

“These folks had an interest in the flight school only, so we started the talks, and I found I really liked the guys and was impressed with them,” Lyons said. “It was perfect timing and a great situation for me. I wanted to simplify my life; it was just a way to slow down a little bit.”

While Renovus Capital Partners and Graycliff Partners are majority owners of Hillsboro Aero Aviation, Lyons will remain as one of the new company’s investors.

Hay said he is optimistic about the future of Hillsboro Aero.

“There is a current shortage of airplane and helicopter pilots forecast to continue over the coming 20 years and beyond,” said Hay, who started working for Hillsboro Aviation in 1996 as an intern and went into senior management about 10 years ago. Hay served as general manager of Hillsboro Aviation over the past five years.

Hillsboro Aero will continue to provide a wide range of training opportunities, including private, instrument, commercial, certified flight instructor and multi-engine and specialty courses. Over the years, Hillsboro Aviation trained students from more than 75 countries, and the school has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

Before the sale of the flight school last month, Hillsboro Aviation owned 90 aircraft and employed 270 people. The newly streamlined version of Hillsboro Aviation will maintain 72 employees in the remaining two cores of the business — contract charters and sales and service.

Despite the substantial reduction in his staff, Lyons pointed out that his former employees are not being left without a parachute. Those not being retained by Hillsboro Aviation will simply transition to Hillsboro Aero Aviation.

“Not one person lost their job,” Lyons said.

Lyons, who grew up in a fourth-generation lumber family in the state of Washington, said he has long been keenly interested in aviation. After graduating from high school in 1974, his first job was as a choker-setter under a helicopter, wrapping cables around logs so a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane could lift them out.

“I saw the guy looking out from the bubble above me, and always thought his job was better than mine,” Lyons recalled. “I fell in love with it very quickly, but at the time it was very difficult to be trained and find employment as a helicopter pilot because so many guys were coming back from Vietnam (with that skill).”

Lyons said he waited until his late 20s, and then started training to be a helicopter pilot.

“When I finished my commercial training, I went to work,” he said.

Lyons has fond memories of his first helicopter job.

“It was back in 1987; I was flying an older model Hiller helicopter, spreading pollen over grass seed fields in Oregon,” he said.

While the pilot training sector appears poised for strong growth, Lyons said that is equally true for charters and aircraft sales and service, the two business groups Hillsboro Aviation will now be focusing on. To prepare for an anticipated jump in business, Hillsboro Aviation is currently in the process of erecting a new 45,000-square-foot building on 5.4 acres at the north end of the Hillsboro Airport.

Lyons said the new facility is expected to be completed by February or March of 2016.

“Both sectors have tremendous potential for growth,” Lyons said. “I’m as excited as I’ve been in 20 years to be able to focus on that side of the business.”

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