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Clearwater private flight company soars as clients seek comfort in clouds

A nonstop demand for white-glove private air service that began during the pandemic pushes a nimble and opportunistic company to new heights.

Barry Shevlin, FlyUSA CEO
Barry Shevlin, FlyUSA CEO
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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Barry Shevlin is known in the region as a successful data, tech and finance guy – a serial entrepreneur rooted in the Tampa Bay area.

But it is his latest venture that is more rooted in the clouds – the real clouds – and its revenues are taking off like a jet.

Shevlin is CEO of FlyUSA, a Clearwater-based luxury private-flight company, an analog venture he says is growing in success because of the addition of digital technology. Shevlin credits digital marketing in particular to the success of FlyUSA, which he co-founded in 2020.

Now set to almost double projected 2023 revenue in 2024, Shevlin is eyeing expansion. The company, to cite one example, recently closed on the purchase of 3B Aviation, founded in 2012 in Tampa by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-educated pilot Nick Barrows.

Shevlin, a pilot himself, has known Barrows for 16 years, he says, and liked the ethics and management of 3B. But why start a flight company in a sometimes notoriously difficult-to-manage industry?

For Shevlin, 52, a resident of Pinellas County for 32 years, the answer is simple: He loves flight. Even CAVU Capital, a finance firm he helps run as CEO, took its name from aviation: CAVU stands for “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited” — how Navy pilots described the perfect day to fly in World War II.

Shevlin’s career did not start in Florida but did start from high off the ground. A native of blue-collar Queens, N.Y., Shevlin worked for the local cable company, climbing cable poles and splicing wires. In 1990, at only 20, he moved to the St. Pete area and started a few companies from nothing.

Vology was his big first hit. In 2002, he founded the Tampa-based managed IT, cloud and security services company, and it grossed $1 million by first selling refurbished phones and other equipment. By 2016, Vology was humming, having changed strategies and services, and was then grossing $175 million a year. 

Shevlin left in 2019 after the firm got an investment infusion. In 2020, he founded CAVU Capital, an investment bank, along with tech-focused investment banker Michael Johnson. CAVU Capital provides advisory services in areas such as mergers, acquisitions and divestitures; growth capital; restructuring and recapitalizations; and management buyouts.

The firm focused on the tech sector, which Shevlin obviously knows well. But it was another 2020 seedling that would pull Shevlin into a new role.

That was when Shevlin’s future son-in-law, William Holtz, decided to start FlyUSA with just one employee. Shevlin helped out, intrigued by the business.

“Aviation was a good business tool as I was growing Vology,” says Shevlin.

Despite the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, FlyUSA was able to gross $300,000. By the end of 2021, the company raked in $4 million.

Shevlin says COVID restrictions commercial passenger airlines put in place backfired, and sent wealthier fliers to private aviation firms.

Shevlin’s personal estimate is that about 30% of the businesspersons who could afford to book private flights were already doing so. After COVID-19, that number may have jumped to 60%. Private aviation “got a shot in the arm” from the pandemic, Shevlin says.

An example he gives is the growth in revenue of that time. In January 2021, FlyUSA grossed $100,000. By March 2022, it pulled in $1 million.

Today, “we’re adding 10 to 15 new clients every week,” he said.

With the acquisition, FlyUSA now has 16 privately managed aircraft across the Tampa Bay area. As a charter and management aviation firm, FlyUSA is plugged into other private operators – about 700 on-demand charter clients — flying into 120 airports every month, Shevlin says. The company can book private flights to almost anywhere, he says.

This makes the company “asset-light” but heavy on connections via technology. Shevlin says the company can offer “end-to-end private aviation solutions” and does so for more than 700 U.S.-based clients.

As the firm grew, it needed more attention. Shevlin became CEO in mid-2022 as the company headed toward $11 million. In 2023, the company is expected to rake in $27 million, Shevlin says, and may almost double that in 2024.

He credits the growing revenues to “great customer acquisition strategy” accompanied with an online presence that attracts people thinking of booking a private flight to such events as The Masters or the Kentucky Derby. The clients like the experience and the personal “touch” Shevlin works to provide.

“They tend to become repeat customers,” says Shevlin.

When asked what is FlyUSA's best practice for repeat business and retention, Shevlin comes back to the “high touch” practices of his company, and the way the company treats its 40 employees and pilots.

“It’s really focus on the customer experience,” says Shevlin. “And the employee experience.”

Correction: This article has been updated to with FlyUSA's correct 2021 revenue.



Jim Stinson

Jim Stinson is the Business Observer's Tampa Bay business reporter and editor, having previously written about business and policy in Washington, D.C.; Rochester, New York; Gary, Indiana; and Daytona Beach. He attended Boston University for business and Indiana University for journalism.

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