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Eagle Carports operates Cessna Citation XLS to support large manufacturing business


Mount Airy NC-based company has used corporate aviation for nearly 20 years.

By Justin Marchand
Contributing Writer

(L–R) Capt Brinkley Church, Eagle Ridge Logistics Pres Steven Torres, Eagle Carports Pres & CEO Alicia Torres, Gen Mgr Gabriel Torres Jr, and Chief Pilot Grant Gordon on the ramp at MWK (Mount Airy NC).
Alicia and Gabriel Torres came from Mexico to the United States in 1986 with little money but loads of grit and determination.

The couple settled down in Mount Airy NC, knitting baby blankets at Spencer’s Infants and Children’s Wear, where they saved nearly every penny they made for 9 years. In 1997, Gabriel Torres invested $10,000 to buy his own business – a Mount Airy carport business.

Founded in 1996, Eagle Carports has since grown from a single employee to the largest provider of metal buildings available through a private corporation in the US. Eagle manufactures all types of steel structures, including metal carports, garages, barns, and utility buildings for residential and commercial use.

Fast forward to 2023, Eagle Carports is still a family-owned and operated business that employs more than 200 people and owns 6 manufacturing facilities across the US, including the plant building where Alicia and Gabriel Torres worked when they were employed by Spencer’s.

Gabriel Torres Jr acts as Eagle Carports GM, and Steven Torres is president of Eagle Ridge Logistics, a subsidiary company that offers cost-saving transportation solutions for company materials.

Eagle Carports realizes around $160 million in annual revenue. In order to grow the business along the way, the company has relied on business aircraft, which have been operated out of its MWK (Mount Airy NC) headquarters to visit its manufacturing facilities and get in front of vendors and suppliers.

It began its private aircraft operations with a Cessna 421, then upgraded to a King Air, and currently operates a Cessna Citation XLS midsize twin jet.

Eagle Carports President & CEO Alicia Torres founded the company in 1997 with her husband Gabriel Torres after investing $10,000 into a carport business in Mount Airy NC.

“Flying private aircraft is the best way for us to conduct and control our business,” says Eagle Carports CEO Alicia Torres. “Our manufacturing locations are spread across several states, and our aircraft saves us time and offers us the convenience of visiting our facilities, which are not located near commercial airports, on a single day trip.”

Chief Pilot Grant Gordon adds, “We fly to all the company shops and manufacturing plants. We fly into OCH (Nacogdoches TX), where our largest plant is after our Mount Airy headquarters.

We go there probably 5 or 6 times a year. We also have plants near ASG (Springdale AR), CVN (Clovis NM), and M02 (Dickson TN), and one close to TVI (Thomasville GA). We also make trips to trade shows and to see vendors.”

Small flight department

Eagle Carports started flying private with part ownership in a light twin piston Cessna 421 out of MWK. “After the Cessna 421, the company bought a King Air 200, and the salesman who they bought the airplane from wound up doing the flying for them and managing it,” says Gordon. “Once the company outgrew the King Air, they took delivery of the Cessna Citation XLS from another local operator.”

Gordon has flown full-time with Eagle Carports for more than 3 years. He has 11,700 hours TT, including close to 5000 in the XLS and XLS+. He started his professional flying career flying charter on the King Air, and transitioned to the CitationJet about 3 years later.

Eagle Carports Gen Mgr Gabriel Torres Jr (L) and Eagle Ridge Logistics Pres Steven Torres represent the 2nd generation of family leadership for the manufacturing business.

In 2007, he went to work as the chief pilot and later as director of operations for a Part 135 operator using a CJ3. In 2009, that company took delivery of a new Citation XLS+. Gordon obtained his type rating in that aircraft, and flew the XLS+ up until 2015.

“I kept looking for the elusive Part 91 job while I was flying charter because I was getting really tired of flying nearly 600 hours a year and spending 70-plus nights a year in hotel rooms,” Gordon laughs. “And finally, after 17 years of flying as a charter pilot, I landed the job with Eagle Carports in December 2019, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Cocaptain Brinkley Church says that, for as long as he can remember, he always wanted to fly. He obtained his private license at a local airport.

After college, he attended FlightSafety Academy at VRB (Vero Beach FL), and then accepted a pilot position with the North Carolina Air National Guard, where he flew Lockheed C-130 Hercules for 7 years.

Church flew Part 91 for a number of large Fortune 500 companies operating everything from Astra SPs and Learjet 31s to Dassault Falcon and Gulfstream business jets. He has flown for Eagle Carports since November 2020, and has 7500 hours TT.

Gordon and Church fly an average of 250 hours each year for the company, and they do it all. “We pull the airplane out of the hangar ourselves,” Gordon adds. “We have an electric tug that we use. Our hangar is connected to a fuel farm that’s managed by the FBO. We can fuel the aircraft ourselves. We do it all ourselves.”

Church continues, “I think having a 2-person fight department is a double-edged sword. It can be both good and bad, and it can potentially  be a dangerous thing if the crew becomes complacent. This is particularly true when flying with a temporary pilot.” He adds, “Grant and I work together so well and we know each other so well that we have a routine of who’s going to do what, to such a degree that we don’t even have to ask.

I can predict what Grant needs, and he can predict what I need when we’re flying. The danger in this is that we run the risk of losing standardization and missing critical tasks. To mitigate this danger, we really stay on our toes and rely heavily on our checklists and procedures.”

Chief Pilot Grant Gordon (L) and Captain Brinkley Church each fly an average of about 250 hours a year. The company has operated the Citation XLS for nearly 3 years.

The 2 pilots also handle all the responsibilities of organizing and dispatching trips. Gordon says the planning process typically begins informally with trip and ground transportation requests being sent via text messages.

He’ll collect trip particulars, determine the most suitable airport, and he and Church will arrange passenger ground transportation and anything else required on the ground at their destination.

Both pilots use ForeFlight for flight planning, and monitor situational awareness in flight. The company’s Citation XLS is equipped with the FlightStream transponder module that connects the ForeFlight app on their iPads to provide ADS-B information.

Gordon usually chooses FBOs in the CAA-preferred FBO network where available, and uses the CAA and Titan apps to check fuel prices. “We try to find the most cost-effective destination and, at the same time, one that inconveniences our passengers the least,” Church explains. “There are times when we go to some places that are more expensive because it gives more time to the passengers.”

Aircraft of choice

Eagle Carports has operated its updated Citation XLS for nearly 3 years. The aircraft can access runways as short as 3500 ft and achieve a range of 1500 nm. “The airframe has been around for quite a while. Cessna came out with the Excel model first,” Gordon relates. “The engines on the Excel don’t quite have the thrust that the XLS has. It was a little underpowered, so when they came out with the XLS, Cessna upgraded the engines with a little more thrust, and upgraded the avionics. It’s a reliable and very dependable business jet.”

Since Eagle Carports maintains facilities at many smaller airports, it was imperative for the company to operate an aircraft able to get in and out of short fields. “From an operational standpoint, the XLS has really good short runway performance,” says Church.

Eagle Carports manufactures all types of steel structures, including metal carports, garages, barns, and utility buildings for residential and commercial use.

“I’ve flown corporate my whole life, going to small towns and small airports, to places that a trip on the airlines would take several days. The corporate pilot is a purveyor of time, and the company jet is not just transportation – it is a business tool used to save massive amounts of time.”

Gordon says that the operating costs on the XLS are also impressive. “It’s a very economical airplane,” he remarks. “The average fuel burn is around 221 gallons per hour. With a max speed of around  Mach .75, it’s not the fastest airplane, but we can get to all of the places that we pretty much go without having to make a fuel stop. The cabin is very spacious – very close to a stand-up cabin. And having an auxiliary power unit (APU) is definitely a plus for the airplane.”

The furthest route that Eagle Carports flies routinely is MWK to CVN, which is located adjacent to the New Mexico/Texas border. The company is able to complete the 1450-nm run without a fuel stop. Some XLS configurations only seat up to 7, but Eagle Carports’ XLS cabin has a couch and an extra seat in the lav for a 9-seat configuration.

Switching up training

Gordon and Church have decided to use CAE Orlando in 2023 for recurrent training. “The cost that CAE quoted saves about $7000 over our previous training provider,” Gordon explains. “But that’s not the main reason we’re switching.

I’ve been trying to get progressive checks, but the other training company kept saying they were having trouble with instructors leaving and they didn’t have enough training center evaluators (TCEs) available to do our training for the entire 3 days. On day 3 they were giving what’s called a standalone check, which is basically this same thing that I had to deal with when I flew charter.

Gordon and Church do it all around the hangar. They are responsible for trip planning, organizing and dispatching trips, handling transportation requests, moving the aircraft, and fueling.

And I just felt like that was a waste of time. Day 3 should be spent doing things that we don’t train for very often, or maybe do something new, or even something fun.”

Church chimes with Gordon. He adds, “With the airlines hiring and the pilot shortage, it’s just hard keeping fully-trained staff to provide the level of quality training that vendors hope to deliver. I think that’s the case across the training industry – but, despite the instructor shortage, flight training providers continue to provide quality and realistic education just as always.”

Maintenance ops

For major service, Eagle Carports uses Signature TECHNICAir, a total service Part 145 repair station based at INT (Winston-Salem NC), or Textron’s GSO (Greensboro NC) service center, which is only a 12-minute flight from MWK. “We’re lucky that we have 2 good maintenance facilities that are fairly close to us,” Gordon states.

The flight department also uses a mechanic from a nearby airport. “He acts as our director of maintenance – to some degree,” Gordon says. “He and I confer on items coming up, and he handles a lot of our light maintenance that can be done in our own hangar, without us having to reposition the airplane.”

Gordon states that the aircraft has been extremely reliable, save one major incident which shut down the aircraft for a 3-week stretch in September 2022. “I went to shut down both engines, and the right engine failed to shut down.

rampThe engine had what’s called a sub-idle event, for it was running around half of its normal idle speed. That’s something I’ve never seen. They don’t even train us for that in recurrent training. I didn’t know what to do. In hindsight, I should have used the firewall shutoff valve to shut down the engine, but I called the mechanic and he got in touch with the guys at the Textron GSO service center, who ended up getting Pratt & Whitney involved.”

Gordon continues, “They determined the aircraft required the replacement of the flexible fuel manifold on that engine. It took 3 weeks, and we had several issues. We ran into problems with parts availability. Once they located a new rigid fuel manifold, they came back and said there was a new drain line that had to be installed as part of changing out the fuel manifold, but they didn’t have one of those at the moment.

They eventually located it as well. Then teams from Pratt & Whitney and Textron were both involved in the repair. Textron had to come remove the thrust reversers off the engine, because that’s considered an airframe part. Textron had to be up there to basically remove the thrust reversers and then reinstall them once Pratt & Whitney had finished.

It ended up being a pretty expensive repair, at around $140,000 after they charged for all their travel time, maintenance time, and parts. The fuel manifold alone was around $75,000.”

New hangar, new aircraft?

Despite supply chain shortages, Eagle Carports continues to grow. It now manufactures more than 50,000 structures each year and has a sales and distribution footprint in nearly 20 states. Its strategically located manufacturing facilities, which are all interconnected by the efficient use of corporate aviation, are able to get buildings to customers faster than ever.

The flight department will soon be moving to a new, larger hangar, and company ownership has discussed upgrading to an aircraft that could perhaps transport between 11–14 passengers.

The need to get in and out of small airports to visit manufacturing plants and customers continues to push the needs of the flight department and help the company grow even more successful from its humble roots.

MarchandJustin Marchand is an aviation journalist. For the past 25 years, he has held a variety of writing and marketing roles within the corporate aviation and commercial helicopter industries.