Central Flying Service Still Aloft After 75 Years

by Brandon Riddle  on Monday, Jul. 7, 2014 12:00 am  

Born out of wartime-driven pursuits, Central Flying Service in Little Rock has since propelled itself as an aviation pioneer after 75 years in business, an anniversary the company celebrates this year.

The fixed-base operator’s founding mission as a flight school is still ingrained in its current philosophy. Even without training as a steady source of income (3 percent of the company’s total revenue in 2013), Central Flying has stayed true to its origin since co-founder Claud Holbert’s sons Richard “Dick” and Don Holbert took over in 1976. The company now offers training courses in partnership with Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock.

Dick Holbert, 71, is president while Don Holbert, 74, is chairman and CEO.

In 1939, the late Claud Holbert, along with partner Edward Garbacz, started the company when World War II was the predominant topic of discussion.

Central Flying’s sole purpose at the time was training pilots for the government through the Civilian Pilot Training Program, a project led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. CPTP was administered through Little Rock Junior College (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock). The CPTP became the War Training Service in 1942 and Central Flying operated as a War Pilot Training Center.

The company had more than 60 aircraft at the height of the war and 30 flight training instructors. Central Flying still offers a flight training facility for about 70-80 students annually, although the company no longer has a wartime contingent of instructors — just six full time and nine part time.

“It’s not the consensus of the industry to have flight training,” Dick Holbert said.

Central Flying’s fleet of aircraft has also decreased over the years, yet Arkansas’ oldest FBO has more than 550,000 SF of hangar space in 21 buildings on 77 acres, setting itself apart as one of the largest in the world.

In the Family

Claud Holbert’s flight history began with lying about his age to join the Arkansas Air National Guard at 16 in 1926. His two sons also found it hard to stay away from flight at an early age.

Dick Holbert recalls his eagerness as a teenager to obtain his pilot license as quickly as the law would allow. “You couldn’t be any younger than 17 to get a license,” he said. “At that time, I felt like the youngest pilot in the country, at least for a day.”

Both sons consider their father, a businessman with a drive for quality service and a willingness to admit faults, to be their greatest mentor.



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