Writer Rebecca L. Rhoades // Photography by Loralei Lazurek
This year, Pinnacle Aviation, based in the Scottsdale Airpark, is proud to be celebrating 35 years of providing private aircraft solutions for private aircraft owners.
Curt Pavlicek, founder and co-owner with his wife, Terry, of Pinnacle Aviation, provides high-powered clientele with a one-stop shop for all their aviation needs, including sales and acquisitions, management, charter services, maintenance and aviation insurance.
Curt has seen the market for private aircraft grow and watched Scottsdale Airport and its surroundings become more and more developed with aviation-related businesses. He has also helped hundreds of jet owners — everyone from celebrities to executives to corporations around the country — with private jet solutions tailored to fit their specific needs.
He’s seen the market for personal aircraft grow, he’s watched the airport and its surroundings become more and more developed with aviation-related businesses, and he’s sold hundreds of jets to everyone from celebrities to executives to corporations around the country.
Today, Pinnacle Aviation employs 90 people, including pilots, maintenance technicians and office staff, many of whom have been with the company for years — some for more than two-and-a-half decades. And, over the years, the business has expanded to include locations in Colorado, Hawaii and, recently, California.
We recently sat down with Curt and Terry to find out how they got started, what the private aviation business is like, and what makes Pinnacle Aviation a company that has thrived in the complex and challenging aviation industry for the past 35 years.
Curt, how did you get started in the aviation industry?
Curt Pavlicek: I grew up on a farm in North Dakota. I knew that I didn’t want to be a farmer, so when I graduated from high school in 1973, I decided to get my pilot license. Shortly afterward, I got my commercial license and my instrument and twin-engine ratings.
Then a friend asked if I could fly him to a cattle auction in Nebraska. I did, and he asked, ‘If I buy an airplane, would you be able to fly my family from North Dakota to Scottsdale?’ The only caveat? I would have to live in Arizona for the winter. I thought, ‘Wow, what a great deal!’ I was young and single, and who wouldn’t want to live in Scottsdale in the wintertime, right?
After buying his airplane, the owner told me that he wasn’t going to use it much and that I should open a charter company. In 1980, I started Arizona Air at the Scottsdale Airport. After three years, the owner decided that he was going to sell his airplane.
Now I didn’t want to go back to North Dakota because I had fallen in love with Scottsdale. Through my charter company, I had met some real estate developers who asked me to do some work for them. So I became their corporate pilot and did that for about five years.
I hold a commercial license, and I’m rated to fly eight different types of jets, from Boeing 737s to Learjets and everything in between.
How did you go from being a pilot to selling aircraft?
Curt: In 1987, there was a real estate crunch, and the developer needed to sell his airplane. He said he’d pay me a commission if I could sell it for him. Through that process, I met people who would say, ‘Hey, we don’t want this aircraft, but could you find us another one?’ I started looking into it, and I was able to develop a sales network. That’s how I got started in the business of buying and selling aircraft in 1988.
Where did the name Pinnacle Aviation come from?
Curt: A lot of people ask that question. The development firm that I worked for was called Pinnacle Peak Land Co. And when the owner gave me the opportunity — sort of pushed me out of the nest — to sell his airplane, I needed to find something to call my business. Also, ‘pinnacle’ means the height of success, so I thought it was the perfect name.
Terry, how did you meet Curt?
Terry: It was a blind date. When I first met Curt, I didn’t know anything about private aviation. But I learned quickly. On our third date, he asked me to join him on a flight to Boston. I’d never been on a private jet. I ended up having to be the flight attendant.
My background is in graphic design, and now I handle all of the graphics, collateral and marketing for the company. The twists and turns that life takes are interesting, but we’ve been very fortunate. That first date was the best thing that happened to me.
How did Pinnacle get into management, maintenance and insurance?
Curt: All of our businesses were developed following requests from our clients. For example, in 1996, I sold a Learjet to a company, and one day their CPA asked me if I could manage the aircraft and the hiring of pilots. So I started a management company. We also needed to do maintenance, so we hired a maintenance technician. That department started with one aircraft and now it’s maintaining 26 airplanes.
Then someone said, ‘You have a whole fleet of aircraft, why don’t you handle the insurance for them, too?’ So that’s how we got into the insurance business. We’ve basically put all five avenues of business together in one package. We’re really providing A to Z for our clients.
Who is the typical client of Pinnacle Aviation?
Curt: We have a wide range of charter clients, from corporate executives to people who want to go skiing in Aspen. One day we can be flying with a celebrity, and the next day we’re transporting prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service or a heart that needs to go from Tucson to Salt Lake City for a transplant operation. Even the governor of Arizona is one of our clients. You never know who’s going to need to go from point A to point B, and that’s what makes this business fun.
How many aircraft does Pinnacle Aviation own?
Curt: We don’t own any aircraft. All the aircraft are owned by our clients. We have the FAA charter license, and we lease the aircraft from the owners.
How many of your clients charter out their aircraft and why?
Curt: Seventy-five percent of our clients do that because it helps offset their costs. If an owner flies 150 hours a year, that’s not enough utilization for a corporate jet. The industry standard for jet ownership is about 400 hours of flight time a year. Also, the owner has a number of fixed costs. For example, the owner has to pay full-time pilots whether the jet flies 150 or 400 hours a year. So if the owner can charter the jet for 250 hours a year, it will reduce the fixed costs and get some return on the investment through charter revenue. It’s simply good business sense.
What advantages are there to charter flights versus commercial flights?
Curt: The biggest advantage is that people can go out and do in one day what it would take three days to do on the airlines. They can leave at 6:30 in the morning, visit four different operations across the U.S., and be back for dinner that same night.
We’ve had companies come back to us and say, ‘This is the most amazing business tool we have. We’re able to get so much work done in one day, and we can have our executives back in the office the next day instead of waiting in line at the terminal and getting delayed or having to switch airplanes.’
How did the pandemic affect your business?
Curt: In 2020, things slowed down because everyone stayed home. But 2021 was the best year in the history of our company, and 2022 may be even better. The past two years have been exceptional for corporate aviation.
Terry: I think that people who sat on the cusp of whether or not they would fly decided to dive into charters. They wanted to have the safety of flying without worrying about getting COVID.
We heard that you pride yourself on Pinnacle’s safety rating.
Curt: There are different rating companies: IS-BAO, Wyvern and ARG/US. We pay them to come in and audit us. They’ll spend days with us scrutinizing our records and procedures and making sure we meet all of their safety standards. IS-BAO is the international standard for safety. It has three stages. We have Stage 3: the highest you can get and the best in the world.
Also, our director of safety, Don Wade, has been flying for more than 50 years, and he’s very well-known in the industry as a national advocate of safety. He and I want to do the best we can do from a safety and environmental standpoint. We’re a no-excuse company.
Why should people choose Pinnacle Aviation for all of their aircraft needs?
Terry: Not every jet is the same, and neither is every jet owner. We pride ourselves on providing uncompromised personal aircraft solutions for private aircraft owners. We offer a wide variety of customized services, so when you fly engage with Pinnacle Aviation, you’re dealing with the people who manage the planes, who maintain the planes, and hire the pilots. We have a responsibility — and we don’t take it lightly — to control all of the things to meet their needs, to make sure they’re safe and to ensure we exceed their expectations.