By John Wolcott Snohomish County Business Journal
ARLINGTON — Six years ago, Cathy Mighell launched Out of the Blue Aviation at the Arlington airport, knowing it needed a full-service facility offering fuel, flight training, aircraft rentals and a place for pilots to gather.
In mid-February, she closed her popular flying business, not because of the weak economy but because the right business opportunity came along.
“I could have kept going, the business was successful, but I had a good offer from a buyer who wanted my hangar and offices to start his own business making parts for civilian aircraft,” she said. “Besides, I’ve been ready to move on to something else that will be somewhere in the aviation realm.”
It’s been difficult for her to leave after making so many friends and introducing so many people — particularly women and young people — to flying, Mighell said.
“Aviation is a very social world and many pilots and instructors made our offices their aviation living room. But I’ve already heard someone else is preparing to start a similar flying business at the airport, which would carry on without leaving a vacuum,” she said, adding that the owner of the new flight business wasn’t ready to make a public announcement.
She returned all of her students’ deposits for future flight lessons, was able to sell her aircraft, and returned planes that were leased from other pilots.
As a fledgling pilot in 2006, Mighell knew that launching a full-service, fixed-base operator business at Arlington Municipal Airport would be tough.
“‘You’ll fail in a business like a new FBO,’ everyone told me,” Mighell recalls, thinking back over her six-year success story. Her doubters also were aware that she had just earned her private pilot’s license a year earlier.
It would have been nice to have some support for her plan, Mighell recalls, but no one in the aviation community did. She relied on self-confidence, enthusiasm, family support and love of flying.
“I was just a ‘baby pilot,’ still thrilled with my accomplishment and the exhilaration of flying,” Mighell said, laughing at her naive impulse.
She knew that any new business venture would be risky. But Mighell and her husband had operated a medical equipment business since 1994, giving her a grasp of good business practices and marketing.
And despite the challenges, Mighell saw the airport as a great opportunity, noting that it’s one of the largest general aviation fields in the state.
It has many pilots, hangars and manufacturing businesses. Her early doubters underestimated her business savvy, determination and creativity, Mighell said.
“We grew basically every year, except 2009, which was a flat year. Then 2010 was good and 2011 was an even better year. We had a ton of new students and we were pretty much on track in reaching our goals,” she said.
“I knew I didn’t need a large population to support my business, just a share of the people who are really interested in aviation,” Mighell said. “I’m surprised at how many students came in wanting to fly, and a number of them even wanted to buy their own airplane. The economy may have been grim, but people were putting money into things that were important to them.”
Mighell found the experience rewarding.
“What’s life if you’re not following your dreams? And, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right,” she said.
One of her new ventures is finding a publisher for her new aviation-themed book, a fictional story of a Seattle woman attorney.
“I’m looking for a publisher who would also be inspired to continue the next aviation mystery books in the series I have in my head,” she said.
“The books would carry on the spirit of Out of the Blue and my love for aviation.”
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