“I grabbed on to it very young,” Lucey said. “He was my role model to get into the business.”
The Rochester, N.Y., native’s career led him to spend 10 years flying with charter operator NetJets, where he amassed 11,000 hours of flight time and rose to rank of chief pilot at age 33.
Five years ago, when Kennesaw-based private aircraft management and charter company FlightWorks’ owner Rod O’Shea needed a president to run the company, Lucey fit the bill.
“I joined the company just as the economy was just going off the deep-end and the private aviation business was going to have challenges,” Lucey said. “I had to the look at the business fundamentals.”
Lucey re-engineered the company in four divisions: private charter, aircraft management, government services and aviation consulting.
“It’s the chicken and the egg; you have to have the aircraft to sell the charter,” he said.
FlightWorks has a 30,000-square-foot hangar at McCollum Airport in Kennesaw and a smaller one at Washington regional airport in Manassas, Va. The corporate office is off Chastain Road in Kennesaw.
Lucey says while the recession reduced private charter business, the company’s government work has blossomed in the last two years and now accounts for half of its business. The company has earned rapid-response transportation government work by becoming an approved air carrier with the defense department’s CARB designation, or certified aviation review board.
In the last 14 months, FlightWorks has dropped more than 2 million pounds of supplies in hundreds of civilian missions for the U.S. Army.
“We are currently the only 135 air carrier in the world to be granted FAA authority to conduct low cost, low altitude, aerial resupply to our troops down to 150 feet above the ground,” Lucey said. “We supply beans, bullets and gas to them in their time of need and we do so with extreme accuracy.”
To execute these jobs, the company leases the short take-off and landing DHC-4 turbo Caribou. The planes are equipped with static line rolling systems to drop the bundles.
Lucey said most of the pilots for this area are former military trained in C-130 air drops.
“Without question, it is the most highly specialized operation in civilian aviation,” he said.
Lucey said the private charter side of the business is coming back. FlightWorks averages 15 to 20 flights per day of the company’s fleet of 25 planes. Half of the company’s 120 employees are full-time pilots. He said the company is in the top 10 nationally in size and scope and has an accident-free safety record.
Flight prices vary depending on plane size, but range from $2,500 to $10,000 per hour.
“We sell the experience in the back of the plane,” Lucey said. All customers have to do is show up and go, he said. “We sell trust that we can deliver them on time and safely.”
Lance Toland, a former pilot and owner of the aviation insurance company Lance Toland and Associates, said Lucey has the rare ability to see the company from a managerial, operational and execution side.
“He took a good company and turned it into a company of excellence,” Toland said. “It’s a long way to Iraq or Afghanistan, and he keeps the deployment running smoothly.”
Lucey said his plans for the next 12 months include an expansion into maintenance services, training and the addition of helicopters.
“You have to be elastic as to where the opportunities are,” he said. “We can’t live on what we did yesterday when it comes to our customers.”