The Liberty Gazette
March 27, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: “People come out to the airport all the time telling me about how when they retire they can spend more time here,” says Bill Griggs, owner of AFI Flight Training in sunny Southern California. “I tell them I’ve been doing that for over 40 years now and get paid to hang out here,” he says with a big grin. Bill opened up his flight school in 1967 and has been going strong ever since.
“When I started this business I did a lot of homework,” Bill continues. “I looked at all the airports around Southern California and talked with all the flight schools and figured out what worked and what didn’t. I finally decided on this airport and put together a plan. And it’s worked all these years.” Bill and his son, Bill Jr. still operate AFI where thousands of pilots have learned to fly.
AFI Flight Training, derived from the company’s original name, Aviation Facilities, Inc., is located at Fullerton Municipal Airport which boasts a single runway, 3,100 feet long. That’s 700 feet shorter than Liberty’s airport. 600 airplanes call Fullerton home and it is one of the busiest single-runway general aviation airports in the world, in the middle of some of the most complex and congested airspace in the world, sitting amongst the busy airspace of Santa Ana–John Wayne, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Ontario International airports. When Bill started AFI, Fullerton was just a sleepy little airport out in the corn and strawberry fields. One of the visual checkpoints flying in from over the beach is Knotts’ Berry Farm and to the southwest is the original Disneyland. I did some of my flight training with a flying club at Fullerton in the 1970s and early ‘80s, and took many a checkride from an FAA designated examiner on Bill’s staff, so it was a great pleasure to introduce Linda to Bill while in California a few years ago, and show her the little airport that could, where people came with vision and passion to create success stories.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what I’ve wanted for so long,” says Bill. “It hasn’t always been easy work, but I have loved it all and look forward to coming here every day. It’s a passion as much as a career or business. It has to be if you are to survive for very long in this business.”
When I was flying out of Fullerton there were five flight schools and airplane dealers on the field. There are still many fixed base operations there but only AFI has remained with the same owner all this time.
Linda: Vision and passion are big things that touch everything you do, but a successful operator doesn’t overlook the small things. Bill Griggs knows the importance of a clean bathroom for instance. “Some business owners don’t realize how important it is,” he says. “Dirty reflects on you.” An observer of human nature, Bill shared a little-known fact with us: “women are funny – they won’t use up a toilet paper roll. They’ll start a new one before one is finished.”
Bill’s well thought through methods of reward and discipline underscore his understanding of people and the industry in which he works, and every bit of how his business and his life are run is based on Biblical principles, the only true recipe for success.