As a longtime fan of the 1990s TV sitcom Wings, Elliot Mintzer always dreamed of living the kind of high-flying, small-plane, pilot lifestyle depicted on the show. So he took the first step by learning how to fly.
The next step came during the 2008-09 recession. Mintzer had been a senior executive in the building materials industry, working with bigtime homebuilders like Lennar and KB Home. When that industry took a hit, so did Mintzer’s work.
His colleagues had known he was learning how to fly and would ask Mintzer about flying them places. Mintzer wasn’t qualified to be able to do that at that point. But he saw the opportunities. “A light bulb went off,” he says. “Being a sales and marketing guy, I thought I might be able to put these people and airplanes together while learning how to fly.”
That’s how his Lakeland-based company MySky Aviation Solutions first got started. “It was a broker company first,” says Mintzer, 55. “As a side hustle, I would put people and airplanes together.”
Yet the business kept growing. First someone approached him about managing their plane, and he had enough flight hours and training to be able to do that. Next, another client asked him to consult on a plane purchase. No longer a side hustle for Mintzer, it’s now a full-time business that offers aviation broker, consulting and management services.
Then Mintzer turned his attention to the charter side of the equation. He bought his first charter operation in 2010 while living in the St. Augustine area but sold that company to move with his wife and twin daughters to the Plant City area, where his wife grew up. About a year ago he started TRYP Air Charter in Lakeland (a rebranding of a company he purchased) to actually fly people from place to place.
TRYP uses the Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop, what Mintzer calls “the safest and best turboprop” in its class. The aircraft can hold up to eight people and fly nonstop from Lakeland to spots like Dallas, Chicago and New York.
“Business is just better than we ever could have imagined,” says Mintzer. The growing Lakeland Linder International Airport has been a good fit for the company: it has one plane there and another coming soon. TRYP also recently added an aircraft based at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to serve customers in that part of the region who may not want to drive to Lakeland. Mintzer flies as many of the charter flights as he can and has pilots he works with to handle the others.
‘It’s not about the money. Follow the dream and the money will come. For everyone on the team, that’s what excites them.’ Elliot Mintzer, MySky Aviation Solutions, TRYP Air Charter
Of course, things took a dip at the beginning of the pandemic, when the world essentially shut down. But Mintzer saw activity start to pick up in summer 2020 and then really take off at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021.
“Our demand spiked 100%,” he says. “And it has stayed at that level since February 2021. We are flying not only people we flew before, but now also new travelers entering the segment because they are sick and tired of the commercial airline chaos. They’re tired of the [commercial airline] mask mandate or their flights being cancelled or delayed.”
Some of those customers might find TRYP on their own, while others get connected through MySky when that company helps customers charter an aircraft. MySky also has access to other aircraft charters when TRYP isn’t the right fit.
About 70% of TRYP’s customers are business travelers, and the other 30% use its services for personal travel reasons. Pre-pandemic, that split was more like 90-10. “And those numbers are probably going to end up more 50-50 as we finish out the year,” says Mintzer.
He says the cost of flying private on a per-person, per-seat basis is equivalent to a first-class ticket. And many clients like that by flying private, they not only have control over who else is in the plane with them, but they can also mostly depart on their own schedule.
Business clients such as contractors, architects, builders, attorneys and pharmaceutical executives are using Mintzer's services to visit multiple job sites or office locations in a day. “We’re also seeing more mid-level executives who need to go to Atlanta for the day for a meeting or to Panama City or somewhere else, where it’s not really easy to travel via commercial airlines,” says Mintzer.
The two vertically integrated companies have about 15 to 20 employees combined. Mintzer declines to disclose annual revenues.
“We’re definitely on a positive trend in terms of revenues,” he says. “We’re excited about that. Everybody in our company loves flying and loves aviation. It’s not about the money. Follow the dream and the money will come. For everyone on the team, that’s what excites them. We want to keep doing that, and we know everything else will take care of itself.”