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The Future Of Air Travel In The Post Pandemic World, With Chad J Verdaglio

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

As part of our series about “The Future Of Air Travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chad J. Verdaglio.

Chad J. Verdaglio is an Arizona native that primarily grew up in Scottsdale. His father was an entrepreneur and got him started working in the family business when Verdaglio was just 10-years old. It was there that he got on-the-job training in sales, marketing and finance and his entrepreneurial spirit first took flight. Now, as the owner and president of Sawyer Aviation, Verdaglio believes this same entrepreneurial spirit is what has allowed the company to soar.

The summer before he started college, he signed up for an introductory paragliding flight (different from parasailing, more like hang-gliding). Soaring through the sky was exhilarating. Young Verdaglio knew then that he wanted more. After extensive research, he registered at Sawyer School of Aviation, a respected program that operated a flight academy at the Phoenix Sky Harbor since 1961. His goal was to earn a private pilot’s license. During college, he continued during weekends and school breaks to earn his instrument rating, a commercial rating, multi-engine rating and eventually instructor certification.

After graduating from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science in business communications, Verdaglio continued to work for the family business, started his first tech company in cloud-computing for a couple of years and then applied to grad school. He was accepted to the Wharton executive MBA program where he planned to go the coming fall. That summer he took the opportunity to resharpen his piloting skills that had taken a backseat to his career. After seeing an ad in the paper for Sawyer Aviation, it prompted his return to the flight academy where he was quickly offered a position as an instructor and eventually the opportunity to consult and finally to buy Sawyer Aviation — it was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.

During the 20 years, the company has worked through many challenging times, but Sawyer Aviation has not only survived, it has achieved significant growth from those early days. Today, it continues to offer private jet charter services, aircraft management and has become the largest maintenance provider at Scottsdale airport, and operates one of the oldest flight academies in the world. With current operations out of Scottsdale and Van Nuys airports, Sawyer Aviation Group has future plans for more. The sky is the limit!

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The summer before I started college, I signed up for an introductory paragliding ride. Soaring through the sky was exhilarating and I knew I wanted more. After researching flight academies, I registered at what was Sawyer Aviation’s School of Aviation at the time to earn my pilot’s license. While in college at ASU earning my BS in Business Communications, I continued dedicating time to my dream of becoming a pilot, and eventually earned my instrument rating, commercial rating, multi-engine rating and instructor certification. After graduating from ASU and starting, running, and selling a few businesses, I applied to Wharton’s Executive MBA program. I was planning to begin in the fall semester. An ad in the newspaper announcing Sawyer Aviation had moved to Scottsdale caught my eye. I contacted them to rent an aircraft and get current flying, again. I was offered a short-term job as an instructor, which turned into business consultant, then VP and finally was approached to purchase the company. I ended up pivoting from my MBA plans and working at Sawyer. The rest, as they say, is history. After being offered the opportunity to purchase the company, which I accepted, I never looked back. Not many people can say their summer job turned into a 20+ year career. I am extremely fortunate to be doing what I love every day.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I don’t have a specific story per se as every day on the job I have the opportunity to meet new people and learn their stories. Whether they are celebrities from TV and film, entrepreneurs and business leaders, medical teams that are saving lives, or everyday people who have overcome challenges and worked to build something extraordinary. Running a private aviation company, gives me the chance to meet people from all over the world that are doing unique and interesting things, and it is a treat to get to know them along the way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It wasn’t funny at the time. I once received a call, several actually, from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Yes, “That NORAD.” Not exactly a phone call you want to receive, as NORAD is in the business of delivering the worst kind of news for aircraft search-and-rescue as well as tracking enemy nuclear missiles. At the time, Sawyer Aviation managed an aircraft for a rocket scientist who regularly commuted back and forth to southern California for his job at JPL. He was testing the homing beacon on his aircraft aka emergency location transmitter, (ELT), which he left on for too long and it stayed on. It was messing with airport signals and air traffic control. I happened to be hiking in the Rockies at the time and my phone had runout of charge. When I finally got down from the mountains and turned on my phone, I had 30 missed calls and voicemails from NORAD. I’d be lying if I didn’t share the panic I felt at that moment. Fortunately, our team had already turned off the beacon on the client’s aircraft. All was well after that. Looking back now, it’s funny, but it wasn’t at that moment, and I hope to never receive a phone call from NORAD ever again except for possibly a tour.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

I recommend being authentic and communicating clearly about what you CANNOT DO. These days in our fast-paced culture, it seems like everyone wants to be a “yes man” and claim to be able to do everything. As humans, we just can’t and it’s important to recognize it. We especially can’t do things well when we spread ourselves too thin.

We are fortunate to be experiencing high demand in the private aviation industry during the last couple of years. As a result, our company is growing quickly to meet the increasing demand. In fact, we were recently recognized on the 2022 Inc. 5000 List of Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America. We would not be able to continue to grow at this rate, if it wasn’t for our dedicated team of employees. Sawyer Aviation is working diligently to recruit and maintain a skilled workforce. Regarding burn out, we urge our employees to let us know when they can’t handle something or if they don’t have the time to handle their current workload or take on something new. This prompts our leadership team to move things around and alerts us to a potential gap where we need to hire a new employee(s). By not saying “yes” to everything, and overloading individuals, we can ensure we have the right people in place to allow our team to perform at high levels and deliver top quality service to our clients.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am grateful for the Sawyer Aviation team, clients, and friends for their support over the many years. There is one client, that had a big impact on me as a young business owner and the company’s success. The client is a well-known business leader and has held public office for multiple terms at some fairly exalted levels. Out of respect for his privacy I keep his name confidential, but he has been a loyal customer and supporter since the early years of my taking ownership of the company. He bought the first aircraft we managed at Sawyer Aviation after I purchased the company, and he has since gone on to purchase other aircraft. He was also a regular customer on our private charter flights. For years we flew him weekly from Scottsdale to California and back. He lives and works in Arizona and enjoyed his weekends at the beach. He stuck with us through the recession and was a huge advocate of Sawyer Aviation personally and promoted us to his network, especially when we needed it most. I am immensely appreciative of him and his ongoing support.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Sawyer Aviation is privileged to be a small part of an immense mechanism that is the modern organ-transplant industry. We provide medical flights for transplant teams that are saving lives. In addition to flying medical transplant teams and organs, we recently developed a globally patent-pending device called HALO that allows for the safer and faster transport of organs, and the ability to save more lives. Organ transplant coolers are safely transported using HALO, which is mounted inside the cabin of an aircraft. HALO protects the organs from damage that could result in making them unusable. Our goal using HALO is to increase the viability of organs being flown, increase the reach of our aircraft and help help medical teams save more lives.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Aviation and Air Travel industries?

Sawyer Aviation is always looking at how we can innovate and keep up with changes in avionics, as well as address customer demands. We mentioned HALO earlier. This device is a significant innovation in the transport of organs in light-to-midsize business aircraft typically used for transplant.

We also recently developed a new website with a state-of-the-art global search tool that makes it easy to find and book private charter flights, worldwide. It allows customers to identify the aircraft and route that best suits their needs for getting to a specific destination. The search tool also allows people to search the best price and take advantage of discounted one-way specials. Whether you need a private charter from LA to San Francisco or from Nice to Paris, we can get you there.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing these innovations?

The innovations our team develops are all in response needs or “pain point” we see in the current market. For organ transplant and medical flights, we recognized a gap in the capability of a light business jet to carry large organ coolers. HALO fills that gap by providing a device the organ-transplant containers can be secured to into that is FAA approved, legal, safe and minimizes its movement during transport. Making it possible for light business jets to make these flights, reducing fuel and operational costs that larger jets require and making it more eco-friendly.

Our SawyerMX division is another area where we are addressing industry pain points. It provides 24/7 services to address business aircrafts’ mechanical nightmares, when many maintenance operators are not available to respond. SawyerMX has mobile response vehicles and aircraft and can travel regiounally or even internationally to rescue an aircraft and passengers if needed.

We redesigned our website to include the search tool to make private travel more attainable and accessible and to quickly answer frequently asked question such as, “How much does a private charter flight cost?”

Are there exciting new technologies that are coming out in the next few years that will improve the Air Travel experience? We’d love to learn about what you have heard.

The future of aviation is exciting. On the distant horizon, approximately 10–20 years from now, I expect we will see supersonic transport (SST) become a reality. Supersonic flight is when an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound. Transoceanic or even transcontinental flights in ½ to 1/3 the time will have a significant impact on making business aircraft even more valuable time machines.

I am also excited about the possibility of eVTOL or Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing aircraft. Essentially, these are drones for humans. At the current rate of testing, I would expect to see these become as common as a helicopter in the next 10 years.

As you know, the Pandemic changed the world as we know it. For the benefit of our readers, can you help spell out a few examples of how the Pandemic has specifically impacted Air Travel?

Great question. The pandemic changed so many aspects of our lives and that includes the way we travel. Specifically, we have seen it cause more people to explore alternative options for travel. Whether that’s switching from commercial to private aviation, or choosing to drive instead of fly, consumer behavior has changed.

Demand for private aviation has sky-rocketed post pandemic as commercial airlines are facing pilot and staff shortages causing cancellations, lost luggage, and frequent delays. Commercial airline travel is causing enough pain and inconvenience that people are exploring private charter options for the first time. Now more than ever consumers realize the value of their time, and the additional cost of private air travel is met with vastly increased value. In some cases, it just makes more sense to fly private.

Can you share five examples of how the Air Travel experience might change over the next few years to address the new realities brought by the Pandemic? If you can, please give an example for each.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, the pandemic brought about a variety of changes to travel and aviation. These include:

  • Aircraft being updated with HEPA air filters and UV cleaning techniques
  • People are looking to flying private for alternatives to commercial airline travel
  • People have an increased interest in purchasing private aircraft (Currently there is a 2 year wait on certain aircraft models)
  • Commercial airline travel needs to hire and reorganization to better deliver services
  • eVTOL- point to point autonomous air travel is expected to become more available

Changes in the travel industry are driving innovations like these and will continue to do so.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

A movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people happens to be within our reach at Sawyer Aviation. As I have mentioned, we are working to introduce our patent pending HALO device to the world, which would allow others in aviation to help save more lives via organ donation, transplant, and transport. There is a tremendous opportunity here if as we increase availability of this device and make it more available to hospitals. We as an industry can help save the lives of so many out there in need.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can come fly with us on social media @sawyeraviation.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.