Part 135 operator meets customer needs with mixed fleet of Bombardier Challenger and Cessna Citation bizjets out of JAX.
By Brent Bundy
Phoenix Police Officer-Pilot (ret) AS350, AW119, Cessna 210/182/172
For nearly 20 years, Jacksonville-based Malone AirCharter has relied on its impeccable safety record and a commitment to customer service to stand out in this crowded field.
Malone AirCharter has been a family-owned/operated business from its inception.
It was founded in 2000 by pilot Scott Malone, his wife Mindy, father Hayden, and stepmother Irene at CRG (Exec, Jacksonville FL). The operation began as a flight school with a small fleet. Then a Piper Navajo Chieftain and later a Beechcraft King Air were added.
As business increased, Scott recognized an opportunity beyond the flight school, and opened a charter operation in 2003. With the school and the charter businesses, the Malones were able to expand their offerings.
Students often transitioned to the charter side, initially as second in command (SIC), with most upgrading to become pilot in command (PIC).
In 2006 they built a new facility at CRG, with their own fuel tanks, more hangar and ramp space, and maintenance improvements. Focus was placed on incorporating jets into the fleet and, within a year, they had 6 aircraft on their Part 135 certificate, with the addition of 2 Cessna Citations – an Encore and an Excel.
When the 2008 recession hit the aviation community, Malone was well positioned to ride it out. The company had exceptional planes, dedicated pilots, faithful maintenance personnel, and an established reputation. Although they faced cutbacks, the doors stayed open. 2013 brought growth with an additional hangar and a Cessna Citation Sovereign.
Both buildings were utilized until the flight school was sold in 2018 and operations were consolidated into one location at CRG solely for charter flights.
Business continued successfully for the next several years, but the original Malone family was considering other options for their future.
Fortunately, there was someone on deck to take over. In 2010, after her first week with Malone, Pres and CEO Cristine Kirk stated, “I’m going to buy this company.” She adds, “I recognized from my first day the camaraderie and work ethic of the people here.
They were a family – literally and figuratively – and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. From that point on, I dedicated myself to achieving the goal of acquiring the company.” Kirk’s foray into aviation didn’t begin until later in life.
“It was pure luck. I was graduating from college and looking for an accountant position, which Malone AirCharter needed,” she says. “I had never worked with planes and now I can’t imagine life without them. Very early on, I knew this was for me.
Unlike previous jobs I had held, I felt like I could make a difference with Malone.” Kirk goes on to remark, “Things had not gone well with the accountant before me. She had missed some key issues and didn’t really fill the company’s needs.
Because of that, it took a while for me to earn their trust. But I was dedicated to growing this company, and they soon realized that.” She threw herself into the complexities of the aviation industry, taking on any roles that were presented to her, from marketing to scheduling and everything in between.
Kirk was promoted to Chief Financial Officer in 2016. She continued in this role as the global coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020. “It was a tough time for us,” she recalls. “However, being mostly debt-free, we were able to navigate our way through quite well.
By having a solid financial plan, we had no furloughs and no one missed a paycheck.” Continuing the family-oriented approach, Kirk also brought her sister, Jamie Hodgson, on board to fill her previous position as CFO. It was during the difficult times of the pandemic that Kirk followed through on her goal to purchase the company.
“The timing was ideal,” she says. “The Malones seemed ready to move on, and we needed more space for planes and people. Although I encountered several hurdles from the Small Business Administration (SBA), I refused to give up, and I bought Malone AirCharter in April 2021.”
Kirk wasted no time in implementing her expansion plans. Six months later, the operation moved to its current location at JAX (Intl, Jacksonville FL). “It’s been an incredibly exciting time for us,” she says. “We have a solid base of customers, and we are flying at our maximum capacity.
We have a great fleet right now, but this is just the beginning for us.”
Demand has pushed the company to add bigger, better, and more capable aircraft, hence Malone AirCharter’s transition to its current all-jet lineup of a Challenger 300 and Citation jets. The company has owned aircraft in the past, but all those currently on the certificate are managed.
Midsize and super-midsize aircraft are equipped with inflight Internet access via Gogo. While Malone AirCharter’s current fleet handles its customers’ needs sufficiently, Kirk is eyeing additional growth. “I want to double everything in our operation,” she says. “I want to have 10 aircraft and 25–30 pilots.”
Foremost on Kirk’s list of improvements is another move. “We haven’t been at this location long, but I am anticipating a brand new facility here at JAX. It’s already in the planning stages.” She adds, “My goal for Malone AirCharter is to exceed expectations.
We go above and beyond. To take us even further means additional, calculated growth, and that is what I plan to do.”
Kirk is quick to admit that her goals cannot be achieved alone. Assisting in her quest for expansion is Dir of Operations James Johnson. He was raised around aircraft due to his father’s aviation maintenance position in the US Navy.
“My dad retired in Jacksonville, and I had always had a secret desire to fly,” Johnson admits. After working in various careers, he could no longer quell his passion, and began flight training at JAX in 1997. By 2004, Johnson had joined Malone as a flight instructor.
Before long, he was flying charter for the company and beginning his ascent up the management ladder. “This business started from scratch, so the corporate transportation experience that I brought with me was very helpful in the early growth,” he explains.
By 2017, Johnson was holding the positions of director of operations, chief pilot, and director of safety. “It was a small company, so we wore a lot of different hats. It was quite a learning experience to take on those roles while also flying quite a bit. It’s been a fun journey.”
As Malone grew, Johnson was able to concentrate on his director position. Currently, while also continuing his flying duties, he takes on the challenges of hiring and coordinating training, both of which can prove difficult. “Like much of the industry, we are seeing a fair amount of turnover,” he explains.
“A lot of people want to fly for the airlines, so operators like us can have difficulty with retention. However, we offer a great quality of life and fair pay, so we’re holding our own.” It is that lifestyle that he credits with the level of service that Malone can offer.
He adds, “The people who are here want to be here. They are all highly trained and qualified, and they go above and beyond to develop deep personal relationships with our clients. That is one of the things that makes Malone stand out.” Assisting Johnson in the day-to-day operations is Chief Pilot Bryon Raper.
Also hailing from a military family, as a child Raper spent time in Germany. It was on a trip back to the States that a flight engineer took the young Raper into the cockpit of a Douglas DC-8 for a look. “At that moment, I was hooked,” he recalls.
“It taught me that when you run into a kid who wants to see the flight deck, you never know what that could turn into. It certainly had a huge effect on me.” Raper enlisted in the US Navy and became an aviation anti-submarine warfare operator, as well as a rescue swimmer.
His fascination with flying never waned, so while on shore duty, he obtained his private pilot license. Raper also received his indoctrination into running a flight operation by assisting his flight instructor with billing in exchange for additional ratings and a good word being put in at Florida Gulf Airlines, a subsidiary of Mesa Air.
Raper flew for Mesa Air for the next 4 years, spending time in Bombardier CRJs and Beech 1900Ds. In 2000, he moved to World Airways, flying DC-10s and MD-11s. “The people at World were some of the best I’ve ever worked with in aviation.
They took me under their wing, trained me, and included me as one of the team,” he reminisces. After World Airways shuttered in 2014, Raper accepted a position with Omni Air International for the next 3 years, flying Boeing 767s.
In 2017, a friend suggested he upload his résumé to a pilot website. Shortly after, while on a trip with Omni, Malone sent him an offer letter that he accepted. “This comes close to the incredible experiences I had at World Airways,” he reflects. “I’m surrounded by people I trust and enjoy working with.”
Raper was promoted to chief pilot in 2019. Raper now oversees the 11 other Malone pilots. While that number is sufficient for their operations, he would like to have 4 pilots per plane, which would mean nearly doubling the roster.
But this has proved to be challenging, with the competition in the industry. “We offer competitive salaries with great training in newer, modern aircraft,” he states. “That isn’t always enough these days, but we’re holding our own.” Raper is also working with Kirk and Johnson to hire additional pilots to allow more crew rest, increasing the quality of life for their aviators.
Applicants are accepted at 1000 hours of flight time for right seat positions. Once hired, pilots complete 80 hours of indoctrination training, and are then sent to FlightSafety Intl (FSI) for PIC type rating. In-house training is modeled after the Navy’s Personnel Qualification Standards (PQS).
Pilots also follow the in-house-developed Safety Management System (SMS), which is constantly evolving. Recurrent training includes once-a-year visits to FSI for SICs, with PICs attending every 6 months. Pilots are trained in no more than 2 aircraft, further enhancing safety.
Work schedules call for approximately 11 days off per month, with the goal of eventually employing a 7-on/7-off rotation. Most trips are within the continental US, with almost no international trip planning needed.
Asked what makes Malone stand out, Raper replies, “We have a group here that is like a hive of bees that don’t stop. We are constantly striving to be the best at what we do.”
Director of Maintenance Ryan Aringdale is the member of that hive who keeps the aircraft in the air for Malone. Like his cohorts, Aringdale comes from a military family. His father was a Navy recruiter, which made following in his footsteps easier. “I knew that my recruiter wasn’t going to lie to me about my career!” he jokes. Like Raper, Aringdale became a rescue swimmer before earning his aircraft mechanic rating and being designated as a flight crew member.
After 5 years in the Navy, Aringdale exited the military to obtain his A&P and IA certifications. Aringdale put his experience to use by joining Malone in 2003. He stayed with them for 3 years before leaving to make surfboards – a side hobby turned business. He made his way back into aviation at CRG a year later, eventually rejoining Malone in 2009.
He had one more separation from them in 2013, when he left to work on Learjets for L3. Family commitments and the required travel didn’t mix, so in 2015 he was back at Malone as the lead mechanic, followed by a promotion to director of maintenance the following year.
Handling the workload at Malone are Aringdale and 3 additional A&P-certified mechanics. Echoing Raper, Aringdale says that finding qualified workers is an ongoing challenge. As he puts it, “We’re very busy with the amount of flying we’re doing. Cristine (Kirk) helps find people, and we’re pulling them from every resource we can.”
With nearly all work done in-house, Malone is in the process of obtaining its Part 145 Repair Station certification. Aringdale adds, “It will only be used for our aircraft, but it will help in what we do.” The few items that cannot be completed on-site are usually sent to Constant Aviation.
Aringdale sums up Malone’s approach to its operation when he states, “We live on the side of safety. We treat our aircraft like an investment, which is beneficial to our owners, pilots, and clients.” Putting people in the seats of those aircraft is tackled by the charter operations staff, which is run by Charter Manager Lydia Wood.
Her father-in-law was a pilot for Malone and told her about an open receptionist position during her summer break from teaching. She remembers, “It was so different! It was more relaxed and I loved it.” Wood enjoyed it enough that she stayed on at the end of the summer.
After a brief hiatus to start a family and dip her toes back into teaching, she returned to Malone, this time in the charter department. Wood now oversees the charter operations, working with 2 other coordinators. They are the first faces of the company a client deals with when seeking flight services. “The calls will come into us, we will get the details, then put together a trip quote using Schedaero software.
Once that quote is accepted by the client, we book everything, including assigning pilots, aircraft, catering, etc,” Wood explains. “Our job is to make the experience seamless.” In Wood’s view, this is what makes Malone different, and why customers come to them: “This company started as a family operation, and it still works that way. It is instilled in Malone.
Everyone is a VIP to us. We want to give them a great experience, from start to finish, and we’re always looking for ways to do that better.”
Kirk is very clear that the future is wide open for her company. On the horizon are a new facility, more aircraft, additional pilots and mechanics, and everything they can do to make the company stand out in the crowded Part 135 field.
By combining an unblemished ARGUS Gold Rated safety record with a family-oriented approach, Malone AirCharter is well on the way to achieving its goal of becoming a top choice for private flight in this evolving and expanding market.
Brent Bundy served as a police officer with the Phoenix Police Dept for 29 years. He flew with the PHX Air Support Unit for 19 years, and is a helicopter pilot with nearly 4000 hrs of flight time. He has flown Airbus AS350B3s for the helicopter side of Phoenix PD’s air unit, and Cessna 172, 182s and 210s for the fixed-wing side.