If you're looking to catch a quick flight somewhere in the Pacific Northwest this spring, Infinite Air is adding a charter business it hopes will fit the bill.
The change is one of several Infinite Air has made in its three years at Albany Municipal Airport. It's also starting a flight training program this spring that's been authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration, meant to make commercial pilot training easier, faster and more affordable.
Operations Manager Tony Hann has been working on both programs for at least two years. "I'm excited that I finally am able to do it," he said.
It took almost two years for Infinite Air to become an FAA-authorized Part 141 Flight Training provider, Hann said. Commercial pilots who go through the program have to complete only 190 flight hours instead of 250.
Approval meant submitting a syllabus and training course outline to the FAA, which then sent inspectors to certify the pilots and go over every inch of the aircraft, Hann said.
The Accelerated Flight program starts April 6. Hann said he's going to limit the course to seven potential pilots each enrollment period, with new enrollment periods offered every two months.
Infinite Air already trained pilots, but that was a much more casual system, with people dropping in perhaps once a week or once a month, Hann said. The formal training program provides a more consistent income for the business, as well as being more efficient for the would-be commercial pilot.
Commercial pilots need much more than 190 flight hours to apply for a job with an airline, Hann added, but that can be obtained by becoming an instructor at Infinite Air — another potential benefit for both sides, he said.
Hann estimates it would have taken his business about five years to create a certified charter business, so it cut the time short by simply buying one: Backcountry Aviation, an Idaho company that had provided charter flights for the U.S. Forest Service.
Now Infinite Air Charter, the business will use a single-engine Cessna 182 and a twin-engine Cessna 303 for chartered flights of about two hours each way. It's the first charter service to operate out of Albany in at least a decade.
Right now, Hann said, the closest charter service is likely Salem, but that uses turbo props or jets at a cost of about $1,500 per hour.
Albany's service won't be as fast, or as limo-fancy — more like a taxi, he agreed — but it will be cheaper: roughly $300 per hour for the single-engine plane and $700 to $750 for the twin-engine plane.
The single-engine plane goes about 160 mph, seats three people in addition to the pilot and is best for fair-weather flights, Hann said. The FAA is wrapping up certification of its pilot, and it should be ready for flights by the end of March.
The twin-engine cruises at approximately 200 mph, holds four people plus the pilot and is OK in winter because it has "boots" on its wings to keep them ice-free. That plane is having an engine changed out — engines have to be replaced every 12 years no matter what, Hann said — and should be ready by the end of April.
Flights might need to leave from either Albany or Salem, depending on the weather. They can go south to about as far as California's Bay Area, north to the Canadian border and east to Boise.
Infinite Air has grown steadily since its first days of business in Albany three years ago, Hann said. It became profitable in its second year.
In the future, he's anticipating the city of Albany to move forward with plans to extend the runway by 500 feet sometime in the next couple of years, which should allow for larger planes to land in Albany. An on-site weather reporting system and an upgraded instrument approach are also in the works for the future, maybe three years out.