Saturday, July 12, 2014

TOPS TORY >> Business celebrates 75 years

Leader staff writer

Central Flying Service in Little Rock is celebrating its 75th year in business.

The company began as a pilot training program and aircraft sales, then expanded to charter flights, aircraft maintenance, repairs and customization. Central Flying Service has grown from one building to 21 hangars with 550,000 square feet on 77 acres at Adams Field near Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

The company was started in 1939 by Claud Holbert and Ed Garbazz, who were members of the Arkansas Air National Guard. Holbert borrowed $1,241 from a bank, bought a Taylorcraft airplane and became a distributor.

Central Flying Service continues to be owned and operated by the Holbert family.


As the U.S. entry into the Second World War loomed, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Central Flying Service partnered with the Little Rock Junior College (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock) to offer the program locally.

When the U.S. entered the war, the program turned into the war pilot training program.

Central Flying Service had 65 planes and 30 instructors. At its peak, each instructor flew an average of eight hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. There were no days off, except for bad weather. Several thousand pilots graduated from the program during the war.

During the war years in 1940s, Central Flying Service purchased a Ford Tri-Motor, making it one of the state’s first private commercial air service companies. The plane was used for training, flights for the postal service and charters. It also gave passengers short rides during the weekend for $1 a ride.

When the war ended, Central Flying Service operated an auxiliary airport in North Little Rock, the city’s first airport.

It had two grass strips, a hanger, a refueling center and a restaurant. They also saw competition increase as 15 to 20 flying businesses started and failed in Little Rock between 1945 and 1950.

In 1961, the Arkansas Air National Guard that was based at Central Flying Service moved to its current home at the Little Rock Air Force Base.

The Flight Deck Restaurant opened at Central Flying Service in 1983 as a deli and, in the past 31 years, has grown into a restaurant and catering business.

The Huey helicopter on display at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, donated by the National Guard at Camp Robinson, was stored at Central Flying Service.

The helicopter was planned for display at the Little Rock Aerospace Education Center.


Central Flying Service offers charter flights on different aircraft for businesses and individuals.

“We take care of everything. You just show up. We can cater the flight through our restaurant,” said marketing and design director Valerie Wayne.

Wayne said there are many advantages to charter flight compared to commercial flights.

“You travel on your schedule. It is stress-free and you arrive relaxed and on time. It is a more personalized service. We will call you to let you know if the weather is going to delay the flights,” Wayne said.

She said there are no long waits in line for flights, no baggage screening, no lost luggage, as you can watch it being loaded onto the aircraft. There are no extra fees for pillows and blankets and no plane changes. There is free parking and a concierge service.

Wayne said passengers will get fed. They can request special flight meals, such as vegetarian.

Meals are prepared by the Central Flying Service’s own restaurant chefs.

A round-trip flight for six passengers on a jet from Little Rock to Washington is around $12,000, according to company president Dick Holbert.


“We teach people to fly, not just military. It can be students out of high school to senior adults who want to learn to fly. Some people purchase their first plane and want to fly it,” Wayne said.

“We take the aviator through all the steps. We teach you how to fly. You can rent a plane through the charter department. Buy a plane through the sales department. (In the) hangar, fuel the plane and maintain it. It’s a one-stop shop for everything aviation,” Wayne said.

The maintenance department can work on both prop and jet planes, Wayne said.

Chief Flight Instructor Cal Freeney said there are currently around 80 students in the flight training program; 70 are airmen using the post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill that pays for their schooling.

Freeney said many of the airmen want to get their civilian pilot licenses for a life after the military.

He said they train students to get their required flight ratings. Afterward, Central Flying Service hires the pilots, so they can build up their flight hours by training new students and move on to become a private corporate company’s pilots.

Central Flying Service in partnership with Pulaski Technical College offers a two-year associate’s degree and a four-year bachelor’s degree in aeronautic science.

Central Flying Service offers a range of employment opportunities. The company has 165 employees. The company is currently seeking flight instructors, avionics technicians and service line technicians.