Q. So your father was able to make a living?
A. Yeah. It was a lot of fun. Since 1948 we've been leasing property on the airport. There have been a lot of leases. The business has moved three times that I know of. In the '50s some other buildings were built, and one of our competitors still uses those today, and we have this facility that we built. In 1970, we had to physically pick up the business and get a new lease and build a whole new business again.
Q. Where did you go to high school and college?
A. La Jolla High School and San Diego State. I got an engineering degree, worked as an engineer for a couple years. I was working as an engineer for Solar, and I worked on weekends at the airport.
Q. And then in about 1970 you joined the business full-time?
A. It was always a small business, a family business. They physically needed help, so I went to work full-time there and never left.
The really peak years of the general aviation business were the '70s -- I think the late '60s to early '80s. I don't have the figures with me, but the production of airplanes kind of peaked around 1978 at somewhere around almost 18,000 airplanes.
There was a curve; it probably went up from 10,000 light aircraft built per year in the early '70s to almost 18,000 in 1978, and then about '83 it dropped down to 2700 airplanes. The cost of insurance -- and since the late '60s, '70s, the cost of airplanes -- has increased at more than double the rate of inflation.
The biggest manufacturer was Cessna. I was a Cessna dealer in 1978 for San Diego, and Cessna made, like, 10,000 airplanes. Of those there would have been 200 jets, something like that, and the rest were all piston airplanes. In 1985 they stopped making piston airplanes. Cessna didn't make a piston airplane between 1985 and 1999. That was because the insurance on airplanes just got so severe. It's sort of like if General Motors quit making cars and only made trucks! So there's been a very big change in business.
The piston airplanes slowly are getting older, and they're not really being replaced. The corporate airplanes -- the jets and the turboprops, which are the light jets -- are the dominant airplane moneywise in the business now, whereas in the '70s they were a very small portion of it.
Q. In 1970, was your average customer a private pilot?
A. Oh, yes. That's still the mainstay of our business, the recreational flyer. We also did charter flying for businesses. The major businesses in town have a need to take people out to different areas, so we had a charter business. The airlines didn't go everywhere you wanted to go.
Since deregulation, airlines are real cheap. I can't even fly my airplane for the same price as an airline ticket. It's lost some of its economic justification, but it's still a great way to go; it's still a lot of fun. If you don't want to go to the major hub cities, but, for example, if you have to go to Denver and then get on something else and go someplace else and then get in your car and drive somewhere, if you can instead fly directly there...it just depends on what your time is worth. If you have to spend all day on the airlines to get there, when you could fly there in three hours, you tell me how much your time's worth. There are still some very good economic uses of charters.
Q. In 1970 you also had a dealership where you sold planes?
A. We were the Cessna dealer. We were Beech dealers in the '60s and Cessna dealers in the '70s and early '80s. We weren't big dealers, but we might sell 15 or 20 per year. In those days Cessna made 10,000 airplanes a year for the whole country. The biggest dealers maybe'd sell 100 or so per year.
Planes aren't like consumer items where you have six of them out there in different colors. People would order their airplane. They would have them custom-made in whatever color or materials and different avionics and that kind of stuff. You had airplanes that you used as examples, and then you customized them.
Q. You had a shop at Montgomery Field that serviced planes?
A. Yeah, we still do. We have a maintenance-service shop. We did all the facets of the business.
Q. What is your mainstay today? Do you still have a dealership?
A. No. Because of the decline in the number of airplanes produced, there really are very few dealerships. Back in the '70s I was the dealer for San Diego for Cessna; there was a dealer out of Gillespie Field who did East County; there was one up in Carlsbad. Today they have one guy who covers Southern California. Many of the manufacturers have their own factory-direct sales force. They may have one or two people who do the West Coast, and somebody else does the Midwest and East Coast.
Q. Do you still have charters?
A. No. We dropped out of that. It was our airplane that PSA ran over 30 years ago, or whenever it was. After we found out that we were working for the insurance company for about three or four years after that, we decided that the higher-risk portion -- which was the fun portion, the flight training, we just ended up doing more of the ground portion. I still did some specialized charter work, but it wasn't the bigger, on-demand stuff. It was more governmental stuff, you know.
Q. So you were involved in the September 1978 crash of the PSA 727 over North Park?
A. It was one of our students in one of our airplanes and one of our instructors. In those days San Diego only had one airport that had an instrument approach, and that was Lindbergh Field. As part of a training program, student pilots had to do practice instrument approaches, and the only place you could do it was Lindbergh Field. And so they were doing a practice instrument approach, and PSA ran down from behind, and they just weren't seeing it.