By Amy Kilgore Mangus, Contributing Writer
Weston Williams, 19, has liked flying since he was 5, when his grandfather, Cliff, began to take him on flights.
“We’d go to Fayetteville, Raleigh, Kinston, just little airports and go get lunch,” he said.
Cliff was an instructor at Air Wilmington, the FBO (fixed base operation) at Wilmington International, and had two planes — a Cessna 150 and a Cessna 172. Cliff started giving Weston lessons when he was 15. After 60 hours of flight time, he passed his written test and gained his private pilot’s certificate in January 2015.
The love of flying developed at Air Wilmington continues. Williams plans to attend flight school at Aerosim Flight Academy in Florida this summer. His ultimate goal is to become a commercial airline pilot.
“I need to get my instrument rating,” Williams explained. “Then after getting instrument, you can fly commercial.”
He will have to pass instrument ground school, log a specified number of instrument flight hours (flying without visibility) and pass an instrument rating check-ride.
He will also need a multi-engine rating. To receive it, Williams will need to take more lessons and pass a multi-engine check-ride. Then, he plans to become a certified flight instructor.
“The pay isn’t good but the whole point is to gain flight hours,” he said. “No airline will even look at you unless you have 500 hours, due to insurance requirements.”
Williams rents a Cessna 172 at Air Wilmington but has also flown a Van’s RV-4, a light, two-seat, homebuilt aircraft.
“I’ve done aerobatics on Wrightsville Beach,” he said. “I want to learn to do that — just for fun. But you really have to know your airplane.”
Williams’ experience at Air Wilmington has been nothing but positive.
“I’ve been to a bunch of different FBOs. Air Wilmington is great. They are really nice people. It’s not a bunch of people in suits and rich people. They are laid back,” he said.
Air Wilmington has made its home on the field of Wilmington International Airport since 1975. FBOs exist outside of the crowds in the main terminals, so many air passengers don’t know about them. For this reason, president of Air Wilmington, Bill Cherry, described FBOs as the quiet side of aviation.
One of the FBO’s primary roles is to help private, independent pilots land at airfields that are not their home airport. It addition to offering fueling, hangaring and maintenance, Air Wilmington also provides services like aircraft rentals, flight instructions and concierge services. It has been owned and operated by the same family for more than 40 years.
Most of Air Wilmington’s business is corporate travel, serving many of the area’s top businesses. Live Oak Bank has three jets based there, helping the bank with its only physical location in Wilmington stay competitive nationwide. Air Wilmington has plenty of area to position visiting planes, utilizing 10 acres of ramp space, with more than five more acres being prepared at the north end of the airport.
Vince Tryer, vice president and division manager for Thomas Construction Group, first got his private pilot’s license from Air Wilmington in the late 1980s. In addition to a corporate jet, he owns and operates an RV-4. He said that Air Wilmington is a superb location for recreational flying.
“An airplane is no different than your car; it breaks down,” Tryer said. “You cannot pull over when something is wrong. To have as professional and as talented a group over there is pretty awesome.”