Mixed fleet of Cessna Citation CJ3 jets and Pilatus PC-12 TPs serve customers in the northeast US and the Caribbean.
By Brent Bundy
Phoenix Police Officer-Pilot (ret)
AS350, AW119, Cessna 210/182/172
Since then, the company has grown to be one of the most successful on-demand charter and shuttle operators in the northeastern US.
Pres & Co-Founder Eric Zipkin grew up in the outskirts of New York City with a father who owned a small airplane. “Growing up, some kids would go fishing with their dads, but I went flying,” he remembers. Flight lessons started at 14, and he soloed at 16.
“I assumed I would follow in my father’s footsteps in the business world, but I still loved flying, so I earned my private pilot license (PPL) and instrument rating,” he adds.
Eric and his brother David opened a small company together, which they sold to seek new ventures. David rode the dotcom wave of the late 1990s in digital advertising, while Eric turned back to aviation.
“I found myself hanging around airports,” Eric recalls. “My wife said, ‘If you’re going to go to the airport every day, you’ve got to get paid for it.’ So I found an entry-level job working for a small charter operator at HPN (White Plains NY).”
Soon Eric recognized that the business was not performing as well as it could. “I realized there was an opportunity to raise the bar for flight services,” he recalls.
in digital advertising to join his brother’s aviation pursuits.
“There were no small operators working at the standards of the big boys. There was a disconnect between sales and operations, and I knew if they could be joined more effectively, the customer would be the winner.” Eric parted ways and sought his own route toward his plan.
Eric attained his flight instructor rating, and soon put it to use. “In the spring of 2001, I happened into a job as a seaplane flight instructor. I spent that summer teaching, and it was the best flying job I’ve ever had.
I had 45 students and I learned from every single one,” Eric relates. But he wanted his own charter operation.
Tradewind takes flight
Eric purchased a Caravan and in November 2001 began the process of obtaining a charter certificate, which was in his hands the following May.
Based at HPN, the company flew passengers to second homes and vacation destinations, while also backing up some freight operators. The activity attracted the attention of 2 Caravan owners who asked to join them on their certificate. By the end of 2002, Tradewind had a solid footprint with 3 Caravans and 3 pilots, and growth continued with the addition of 2 King Air 200s.
Later on, one operator’s misfortune ignited a fire for Tradewind. Eric explains, “The freight company I had been flying for went out of business. They had been regularly flying a group to Nantucket, so I offered to continue that service, and they agreed.”
Word of mouth spread among that group’s associates, and Tradewind truly took off. Changes came about in 2003. First, David reunited with his brother and brought his advertising expertise to Tradewind. “Eric is the pilot extraordinaire, while I work with clients and get our brand out there,” says Chief Marketing Officer & Co-Founder David Zipkin.
Then, a client asked Tradewind to manage his Pilatus PC-12. The addition of the Pilatus to the charter flights proved wildly popular, and the aircraft logged more than 800 hours in its first year.
“I knew nothing about Pilatus, but the passengers loved it,” Eric exclaims. This led to a transition from the King Airs to a fleet of PC-12s and Caravans.
A fortuitous effect of adding that first Pilatus was that the owner spent a significant amount of time in the Caribbean. To generate income during those stints, Eric looked to St Barts.
“Local operators tried to keep others out by enforcing the stringent ICAO standards of the French aviation authority, but we were already working at that level,” Eric explains.
In Tradewind’s favor was SBH (Saint Barthélemy), with its 2119-ft runway and infamous steep approach – both of which are ideal for PC-12s. The challenges of Caribbean flying, where every flight is international, provide valuable experience for Tradewind pilots.
In addition, ops to the Caribbean allowed Tradewind to become a year-round business. “It’s now more active than our domestic operations,” David adds. The flights became so busy that a base was established in Puerto Rico.
“We have up to 60 flights per day flying out of SJU (San Juan PR),” he adds. That location now serves as Tradewind’s Caribbean hub, with scheduled routes to Anguilla, Antigua, and other locations throughout the islands.
Tradewind also flies private charters into Virgin Gorda, which was quite a coup. Since 1965, this location had been closed to single-engine planes.
The government requested Tradewind to become the first and only single-engine operator to service the island, which has become its 3rd most popular Caribbean route.
Increased demand for these popular charter routes led to Tradewind becoming a scheduled air carrier in 2005, with its aircraft type allowing it to remain Part 135.
“We were initially hesitant,” says David, “but it was the right move, and it has made us a better company.” With SJU handling the Caribbean, OXC (Oxford CT) is the headquarters and main base. Scheduled flights in the Northeast operate to ACK (Nantucket MA), MVL (Stowe VT), MVY (Martha’s Vineyard MA), and UUU (Newport RI). Tradewind also has a presence in HPN and TEB (Teterboro NJ).
By the mid-2000s, managed aircraft made up 75% of the fleet. As some turboprop owners moved up to larger aircraft, they continued to benefit from Tradewind’s management skills, bringing the first Cessna Citation CJ3 jets into the inventory.
The Pilatus PC-12’s popularity continued, leading to the removal of the Caravans. Currently, the Tradewind stable consists of 18 Pilatus PC-12s and 3 Citation CJ3s.
Tradewind owns 15 of these PC-12s and 1 of the Citations. The Pilatuses are used for scheduled and on-demand flights, while the Citations are used exclusively for charter.
The PC-12 collection is made up of a combination of Legacy and NG models. The NG versions are equipped with the Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite with 2 primary flight displays and 2 multifunction displays.
Legacy models have been upgraded from the original panels to Garmin GTN 750/650 touchscreen displays. All CJ3s are fitted with Collins Pro Line 21 avionics.
Complimentary inflight Wi-Fi is included on domestic flights. Keeping the fleet airworthy is tasked to a robust maintenance department.
Assistant Director of Maintenance Ed Adduci joined the US Air Force at 18 years old to become a mechanic, working on F-22 Raptors throughout his enlistment.
After leaving the Air Force, he returned to Connecticut, earned his A&P, and joined Tradewind in 2013. With a sizable fleet and 22 personnel in maintenance, Tradewind is afforded the luxury of completing nearly all work in-house, including wing pulls and engine changes.
The company also keeps a well-stocked parts department. “Having a large number of spares saves us money,” notes Adduci. “We rarely have to overnight a part, which cuts costs drastically.”
In addition, the company is always looking for more technicians. Adduci adds, “We work closely with local schools. Most of our mechanics come from this area with a lot of word-of-mouth referrals.
It has allowed us to build a close-knit group. This is a big company with a mom-and-pop feel.”
The Zipkin brothers needed the right people to help realize their goals. Chief Operating Officer Adam Schaefer was a key addition. After high school, he obtained his PPL, and then headed off to Embry-Riddle in Daytona FL.
While on break, holding instrument and commercial ratings, he sought aviation work. “I went to every airport in Connecticut, looking for any job,” he remembers.
One of his last stops was the 42B (East Haddam CT), where his future boss, Eric Zipkin, was instructing in seaplanes. “I was hired as a ramp worker, but by my second summer I was also instructing in seaplanes.
It was my best job ever,” he adds. After an internship with Comair in Ohio, Schaefer obtained his A&P rating.
In 2005, he joined Tradewind as second in command (SIC) in the Caravan, while also applying his A&P skills. By 2009, Schaefer had moved up through the ranks as a PC-12 captain, followed by stints as assistant chief pilot and chief pilot. He was director of operations for a decade before accepting his current position in 2021.
“My job now is working with my people to give them the tools they need to do their jobs,” he explains. “Our charter demand is off the charts, and I make sure the right people have the right processes to fulfill our clients’ needs.” Asked why customers choose Tradewind, he replies swith 1 word – service.
“Client satisfaction is our number one goal,” he remarks. “Private charter can be a crowded space. We constantly evaluate our business to see what we can do that no one else is doing.”
Director of Sales and Dispatch Tara Evans spent several years in the hotel industry before seeking an accounting job.
Then she worked with CitationAir in a customer service position. “It wasn’t what I was looking for, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot about aviation,” she recalls. During her time there, there was an opening in scheduling.
“I liked the idea of putting all the pieces of the charter puzzle together,” she says. After CitationAir closed its doors, she found a position with Boeing in Miami.
However, she got homesick and went back to New York. She finally joined Tradewind in 2016. Evans’s aviation experience allowed her to grow quickly. After 2 years as a scheduler, she became a dispatch supervisor, and then dispatch manager. She now oversees the 20 personnel in the scheduling and dispatch department at OXC.
She also works closely with the company’s client experience director, who’s tasked with developing and maintaining high client service standards. She summarizes, “The amazing team we have allows us to offer the experience and top-notch service that we provide.”
Monitoring day-to-day activity falls to Director of Operations Brian Smith. Unconventionally for a pilot, his expertise comes from jumping out of airplanes.
“My dad was a skydiver, so it became a weekend hobby when I was young,” Smith explains. Skydiving morphed into more than a hobby when he was recruited by the elite US Army parachute team, the Golden Knights.
Straight from high school, Smith joined the Army, where he served for 8 years – 6 of them with the Golden Knights, completing more than 1000 jumps per year.
While on military leave, Smith earned his commercial/multi-engine/instrument/ratings. He comments, “My checkride was just after 9/11, so when I got out a year later, it was at one of the worst times in history to get into aviation.”
Smith returned to Connecticut and found a manufacturing job where the owner had a Piper Saratoga. “I got to fly the Saratoga as a job perk. We were based at OXC, so for 13 years I saw the growth of Tradewind.”
In 2018, Smith joined the team. Hired initially as a PC-12 SIC, he became a captain, transitioning later to the CJ3s. His growth continued through appointments as assistant director of operations, and then to his current role in November 2021. He explains, “My job is to not only deal with the day-to-day, but to look at the long term. We are constantly looking to innovate.”
Asked what makes flying for Tradewind different, Smith replies, “Opportunity. You see things here you can’t at the airlines. The experience we offer our pilots is incredible.”
Directly under Smith is Chief Pilot Erik Larsen. “When I was 10 years old, I told my parents I wanted to be a pilot,” Larsen recalls. He pursued that goal in college, followed by work as a flight instructor.
A fellow pilot who had been hired by Tradewind recruited Larsen in 2013. His progression up the ladder was rapid, making it to the chief pilot role within 8 years.
“In that time, I’ve held every position here that has the word ‘pilot’ in the title,” he jests. Larsen now watches over the 50 pilots at Tradewind, including 2 assistant chief pilots and 5 standards captains.
Forty are PC-12-qualified, with 10 flying the CJ3s. Hiring is as much of a challenge for Tradewind as it is for other flight departments. “Fortunately,” notes Larsen, “we aren’t looking exclusively for high-time pilots.
An 800-hr CFI is our most successful candidate.” Other advantages to working with Tradewind are the variety of exposure it offers and the 2-person crews.
“Our pilots experience both sides of aviation – scheduled and on-demand,” says Larsen. “This provides an opportunity to continue their careers elsewhere, although we want them to stay. Also, our flights are with 2 pilots, which helps in safety and hour-building. In addition, we offer quick upgrade time and a great quality of life.”
Director of Training Max Maroney followed a similar path to that of his fellow flyers by completing his first solo flight on his 16th birthday. “I saw Top Gun when I was 10 and that was when I knew what I wanted to do,” he remembers.
He attended Oklahoma State University, where he participated in National Intercollegiate Flying Association competitions and learned a lot about flying.
He continued expanding his aviation repertoire while working as a skydive pilot. Maroney was hired by Tradewind 23 days after his college graduation.
“I looked here because they had PC-12s, and that’s what I wanted to fly. But the quality of life kept me here,” he explains. He made captain status within 6 months, and was offered an instructor spot a year later.
That lasted 3 weeks before he accepted his current position. In his short time with Tradewind, he has also been qualified in the CJ3. Maroney conducts initial, recurrent, upgrade, and simulator instruction, and he also supervises the other instructors. All pilot training is done in-house, including when utilizing FlightSafety Intl simulators.
“We dry-lease their sims for our students, using our syllabus,” he explains. Even with the company’s relatively low entry requirements, Maroney echoes his chief pilot regarding the difficulty of hiring. “We receive many résumés, but we maintain high standards.
Once their foot is in the door, they receive great training. We have incredible management, who all fly our aircraft, so they know what we need, and they provide it.”
No end in sight
With an eye on the needs of their customers, Eric and David Zipkin continue to reevaluate client preferences. The popularity of the Pilatus PC-12 has been a driving force.
To that end, Tradewind recently signed a letter of intent with the Swiss manufacturer to purchase 20 new NGX model PC-12s. Eric’s enthusiasm is obvious. “Our customers have told us what they want,” he says. “We recognize the quality and reliability of this airframe, so we are excited to continue our relationship with Pilatus.”
Tradewind Aviation began 20 years ago with an idea to provide a level of service that was in demand but not in existence. The concept of offering large-jet amenities in small aircraft on short routes may have seemed like a gamble, but it was a risk that the founders believed in.
And it has paid off, not only for the company, but for the true winners – its customers. With a close-knit team, a loyal client base, and an expanding fleet of class-leading aircraft, the Tradewind story is just beginning.
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.