Salute to an Aircraft Charter Company on its 50th anniversary–Clay Lacy Aviation

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This Van Nuys Airport firm is still reaching for the sky, even at 50

1st FBO at Van Nuys

Great Safety Record

Exceptional performance in a tough competitive market

The Aircraft Charter industry is incredibly competitive- increasing number of available aircraft (including the hard-to-detect GRAYMARKET), uber demanding customers, uncontrollable fuel costs, high tech aircraft with even more complicated MX, difficult-to-retain pilots, complaining neighbors and difficult landlords. Thus, any company which succeeds in one year deserves credit and if it has done so for 50 years, it deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Thanks to the Los Angeles Daily News, we have the story of Clay Lacy’s operation.

At 50, Clay Lacy Aviation has survived industry consolidation to build up a private flight business at Van Nuys Airport, catering to VIPs.

A San Fernando Valley aviator who helped pioneer corporate jet flight around the world celebrates a 50th anniversary this year.

Сlay Lacy was the first to launch charter flights out of Van Nuys Airport[1], catering to executives and Hollywood celebrities, including singer Frank Sinatra and actor Danny Kaye. Since its launch in 1968, Clay Lacy Aviation has built up a fleet of more than 100 aircraft, offering multiple services, including aircraft management, charter, sales, acquisitions, maintenance and other services.

Since last year, their sales have grown 25 percent, a spurt the company attributes to a stronger economy, recent corporate tax cuts and emerging clientele from Silicon Beach, the Southern California westside coastal tech hub where start-up companies have found a base.


“Our business has matured, so there is more consolidation and there are fewer stronger companies and smaller companies,” said Clay Lacy Aviation President and Chief Executive Brian Kirkdoffer. “Consolidation of businesses brought us more business. We are fortunate to be one of those bigger and stronger companies.”

Lacy has been flying planes out of Van Nuys Airport since 1952.

In 1964, the legendary aviator flew the first Learjet coast to coast and back in a day. About four years later, he founded his jet charter company at the Van Nuys Airport, serving executives and Hollywood celebrities.

Kirkdoffer met Lacy when he was 14 years old and quickly began taking flight lessons from the legendary aviator.


RELATED STORY: Van Nuys Airport’s Clay Lacy Aviation breaks ground on major expansion


Growing up in an aviation family, Kirkdoffer learned how to fly before he could drive a car.

Kirkdoffer graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in business administration. Ironically, his first job offer came from Lacy, who offered him to join his company as a co-pilot.

For several decades, private jet operator Clay Lacy has catered to many celebrities and former presidents from around the globe, the company based at the Van Nuys Airport celebrates its 50th anniversary in Van Nuys, CA on December 13, 2018.

In 2012, Kirkdoffer became the company’s majority owner.

Under his leadership, the company expanded on the East Coast. Today, it boasts a fleet of more than 100 corporate jets in 24 cities valued at over $1.5 billion.

Since Kirkdoffer took over the businesses in 1990, the company boosted the number of employees from 20 to 500 who work at 24 different airports across the country. In Southern California, that includes Burbank, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Palms Springs and Santa Monica Airport.

RELATED STORY: This Van Nuys aircrafts mechanics school is tapping into a growing roster of students: Women

Clay Lacy Aviation is the largest employer at the Van Nuys Airport and employs 350 skilled aviation workers, including flight attendants, mechanics, accounts and flight coordinators. Over the years, it has partnered with major business jet manufacturers, including Gulfstream, Boeing, Airbus and Cessna.

Kirkdoffer said the company advertises their services in industry magazines, but a many clients come from word-of-mouth referrals.

“Most people know about us from people we know,” he said. “We have 50 years of giving good service.”

Doug Gollan, a private aviation expert and editor of the website Private Jet Card Comparisons, said the reason Clay Lacy Aviation has been successful is because of a consistent ability to address customers’ needs.

“Sometime big corporations and big companies are a little bit slow,” he said. “One of the reasons they have been successful is because of the entrepreneurial nature of Clay Lacy. Whenever they’re seeing opportunities, they got it and create services to address them.”

[A serious omission for this article is the failure to mention the degree to which Lacy’s company has attained the highest levels of safety. The above 6 certificates demonstrate that the outside experts find this charter company has outstanding performance in this critical dimension.]

Kirkdoffer said the biggest challenge his team has been facing is the lack of next-generation aviation professionals.

The U.S. military is shifting its focus toward developing unmanned aircrafts. As a result, the industry is experiencing a shortage of trained pilots.

“There is a shortage of the aircraft mechanics and pilots and that’s a big issue for us,” he said. “The cost to get this specialty and experience is very high. And the military is not putting out as many pilots and mechanics as they used to.”

So far, the company has been actively supporting local schools that train pilots and mechanics.

The Van Nuys Airport’s Aviation Center, or AV-Center, operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Division of Adult and Career Education, trains maintenance professionals who after graduation can make about $70,000 a year.

Since 2015, the company has awarded $40,800 in financial assistance to 100 students to cover the costs of tuition, books, tools and certification exams. Many of the graduates later became the company’s employees.

Another big investment the company made a few years ago is by building a $16-million development that stretched across 6 acres and includes two hangars and one office building on land controlled Los Angeles World Airports. The lease could generate $31 million for the city over a 30-year term, with property taxes adding $2.4 million over the same period.

The company doesn’t rent out the space but rather hosts meetings with clients, aircraft manufacturers and community events.

“It’s been a very good investment for us,” Kirkdoffer said. “I was nervous. It’s a lot of money to put in this thing. But our employees like this. Future might be dull and commercial or it might be a spectacular space like this.”

[Lacy’s aviation record began with United Airlines, where he retired as the #1 in the seniority list. His last flight was in the left-hand seat of a B0747 from Sydney to Los Angeles.]



Clay Lacy.

Entrepreneur, airline captain, military test pilot, air race champion, aviation record-setter and aerial cinematographer, Lacy has accumulated more hours flying jets than anyone on Earth. He has logged 50,000 flight hours in more than 300 aircraft types, set 29 world speed records and performed over 2500 film missions.  While still a pilot at United in 1964, Lacy earned his Learjet rating and became the Learjet salesman for the western United States. Lacy leased a Learjet in 1968 and founded Clay Lacy Aviation, the first executive jet charter service west of the Mississippi.


[1] VNY recently celebrated its 90th birthday


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