Paula Williams: Hi. I’m Paula Williams and you are watching or listening to Contrails & Cocktails. Whenever you get 2 or more smart aviation people together in a room, the stories are going to start to fly and when you start mixing cocktails, things are going to start getting really fun. So for this episode, we have serial entrepreneur and corporate innovator, Michael Duke, as our guest. When a relative was badly burned in a fire, requiring immediate Interstate Transport to a regional Burn Center, Michael realized that having fast, affordable, point-to-point air transport is a necessity, not just a luxury. Michael founded DBT Aero to commercialize ultra efficient sustainable aircraft that can scale from aerial inspection drones or personal air taxis to business cargo and regional aircraft. The patented Double Box Tail, DBT, configuration is stronger, lighter, and more aerodynamically efficient while providing increased stability in turbulence and spin resistance for a safer, more comfortable flight, and better aerial data acquisition.
The DBT Aero Technology adapts easily to multiple sustainable propulsion systems including battery electric, self-heal electric, hydrogen, SAF, providing multiple multiple pathways from today’s fuels to tomorrow’s fuels. Michael is a serial entrepreneur and corporate innovator. He bought a Southern California FBO with a Part 145 Repair Station, turned it around financially, and leverage the FBO to import and distribute the newly approved light-sport aircraft, bringing more affordable aviation to many. Michael worked with a European factory to develop the first night, legal light-sport aircraft and the first light-sport aircraft for IFR training, significantly lowering the cost of flight training. So you probably already know that Contrails and Cocktails is sponsored by Global Aircraft Group. Global Aircraft Group offers desktop appraisals expert, witness, pre-buy inspections. The founder is located in New England and travels free of charge to any land in New England with a situation that needs this services. You may need an aircraft appraisal for an aircraft transaction and a state settlement, a divorce, a legal situation, whatever it is.
If you’ve got a problem, involving aircraft values, Mark can solve it. Mark Parry is the president and founder of Global Aircraft Group. He has over 30 years of experience in corporate aviation and he has a diverse roster of clients and unparalleled access to professional resources, which helps the organization achieve positive returns in his clients investments and capital. Prior to establishing Global Aircraft Group, Mark worked for Bombardier in numerous capacities, involving sales, maintenance, completion, pre-purchase inspections. He was also employed by Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, ”The Skunk Works” under Kelly Johnson. So let’s jump into this conversation. So welcome to this episode of Contrails and cocktails. Today, we have Michael Duke of DBT Aero, and of course, Mark Parry of Global Aircraft Group. And whenever we get people in a room that are interesting aviation people, the stories are always fascinating, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.
Michael Duke: Well, let me back up and tell you how I kind of got involved in aviation. I guess I was one of those people in the Disney Up movie like the dog, where every time I hear a plane is kind of like squirrel, airplane.
Michael: Growing up and even into adulthood, I always would look for airplanes up in the sky and swore that one day, I was going to become a pilot. So I was working as a Management Consultant back in the late 80s, shows how old I am, and I was on a different assignment than I usually get where I actually had time in the city, where we were doing the consulting in the evenings that I wasn’t working. So I thought now, what am I going to do with my time? I’m not used to this, I’m so used to working, 15, 16 hours a da, and I thought, oh, I’m going to go get a pilot certificate. So I’ve looked up some pilot schools and I found somebody who was willing to meet me in the evenings and do flight lessons. So I just got started on that and that was the summer of 1988.
Paula: Wow. Cool.
Michael: Sadly, for about 4 hours into my flight training, I got a new assignment and I wanted to tell my consulting company and say, ”I’m sorry I can’t take that new assignment because I just started my flight lessons,” but I didn’t think that was going to work very well. So anyways, I ended up leaving my flight lessons for about 5 years. Started again, got 4 or 5 hours into my flight lessons and I got a new job again. So about 5 years later, I restarted my flight lessons, and guess what? I started a new job. So by this time, I had the opportunity to buy an FBO in Southern California. So I went and bought the FBO, move my family, and I thought I’m finally going to get my pilot certificate. Well, as it turns out ,there were some problems with the undisclosed information from the seller and the company was not as profitable as it was supposed to be. In fact, it wasn’t profitable at all. I then spent the next couple of years trying to turn the company around which I did, and as part of that turnaround, I began importing and distributing light-sport aircraft.
So this couple comes in to buy one of the aircraft from me and they said, ”We’ve been to all the shows, an we want to buy this aircraft.” So I was going through with them what their criteria were and make sure that it was a good fit for them, the aircraft that they were looking at. After we came up with the fact it was going to be a good fit for them, the wife said, ”Okay, I’d like you to go fly with my husband, he’d like a demo flight.” So I said ”Okay, great, let me call one of my CFIs and we’ll bring them in and give them a demo flight.” And she said, ”No, no, no, we want you to give the flight.” My husband wants you to take it. And I said ”Well I can’t, I don’t have a pilot certificate.” And she said ”But I’ve seen you at all of the air shows and you fly the plane in.” I said ”Well yeah, but I always have a CFI in the right seat so that I’m legal. And she said ”You don’t have a pilot certificate and you’re selling planes and you own an FBO? And I said, ”Yeah. I’m busy with all these other things. And she says ”I’m a DPE.” She said ”I’m coming back in 2 weeks and we’re having your check ride’.” A and I said, ”Yes, ma’am.” So finally, in January of 2010, so it had been almost 22 years, I finally managed to become a private pilot.
Paula: Congratulations. That’sso cool.
Michael: I accepted. It took a little bit of work and a lot of time, but I finally did it. So that was a lot of fun. And the aviation blood has been in me ever since I sold the FBO, but I’m now working with DBT Aero, and we think we have some pretty unique technology for making airplanes more efficient. So we believe these are the most efficient airplanes for the general population, that have ever been designed, and no matter what fuel ends up being the fuel of choice in the future, whether it’s electric or hybrid electric or hydrogen or SAF, we continue with Jet A forever because the airplanes use less energy in flight, they are always more sustainable than today’s current aircraft. So we’re pretty excited about bringing sustainability and also quiet propulsion to the aviation community.
Paula: That’s fantastic. I know a lot of the smaller airports like the Santa Monica’s and other things, there’s been so much noise about noise and so much discussion about these smaller airports and some of the objections to them. And I think these aircraft, the more innovative aircraft, may be a great solution to some of those problems that people are having.
Michael: And if you think about what noise is, noise is work. If you think about the decibel scale, decibels is a measure of work that’s being done.
Paula: Yeah, energy expanding. Yeah.
Michael: Yeah. When an aircraft is creating noise, it is wasting energy. It is using the energy to make noise rather than to move the aircraft through the air. So, part of becoming efficient is eliminating, the noise.
Paula: Right. Well, you back to your original story. People who are addicted to airplane noise not going to have the reason to run to the window if they don’t know an aircraft is arriving, that’s kind of ironic.
Michael: I know and I said at a stoplight and you can hear certain cars pull up, and it’s like, oh, that’s a Mustang or oh, that’s one of the new chargers or whatever it is. And when a Tesla pulls up and you can tell from the headlights or the silhouette, but not from the noise, so, yeah.
Paula: Right. Exactly. Yeah. John and I were walking to our car in a parking lot recently, and it was a noisy parking lot and there was a Tesla behind his, just creeping along. We didn’t even know it was there until we turned around and ”Oh, we’re being run over by a Tesla.” So great. Mark, as an appraiser, I had a question that I thought would be really interesting. How would you go about appraising something like this, that is a completely new airframe or a completely new platform? It’s kind of interesting having you both in the room for this conversation.
Mark Parry: Oh, well, that challenge, to tell the truth, but really the USPAP training that we have and the methodology that we use, makes it pretty easy. Well, if it’s an experimental aircraft or aircraft that really… you could do it a couple of different ways, you can do a cost analysis approach, or a market analysis approach that you want to value of the aircraft.
Michael: And we actually had a similar issue, I think, when we first started importing the light-sport aircraft, and that was with insurance. They’re brand new, so they’re certificated aircraft, but how do you get insurance for something when nobody knows what the loss history is? No one knows what the repair costs are going to be. And so, getting insurance was rather difficult and so a number of the pilots would simply get liability and no hull and fly with liability only because they really couldn’t get hull. They didn’t want to spend the money since the insurance agents didn’t know how to properly underwrite the aircraft. So, anything that’s new like this and whether it’s our aircraft or some of the EV tolls or similar, there are going to be insurance underwriting issues that will be appraiser issues as well because they’re new, it’s unknown. And so there will be some interesting things moving forward. If you know anybody is listening that is looking to become a future owner of one of this novel, new aircraft, it’s a new world and so, it will be interesting at the beginning as we work with insurers and appraisers and others to figure out what are the right numbers going forward.
Mark: Right. I think an appraisal is a good way to start, not only for just financing but to be able to get proper insurance, you have a detailed appraisal report. It states the value of the aircraft now then [inaudible] even with like classic cars that they don’t know what the value is, but you do all Marine and you get a survey that’s the same process. But yeah, so I think in my opinion, an appraisal will be a good way to go for your clients, forgetting Insurance numbers.
Paula: Let me ask you, Michael, I know one of the really cool things about this aircraft is the fact that most of the flights that take place in the United States or most of the trips that take place in the United States are really too long for a car and too short for an airliner. I know we’ve had this conversation and you explain it much better than I do, but tell us a little bit about that.
Michael: If the Bureau of Transportation Statistics release some really interesting information. I think 2021 was the latest data that we have. But they looked at what they call a long-distance trip versus a short-distance trip and short distance for the Bureau of Transportation Statistics is 49 miles or less, so kind of local. And a lot of folks may not even drive 49 miles, but that’s kind of where they put the limit between a short-distance trip and a long-distance automobile trip. And what they found in their statistics is that from 50 miles, where the long-distance begins, out to 999 miles, one way. So up to 1000 miles, people are doing 10 times more auto trips than they are in an airplane. It doesn’t even get close until you get over 500 miles. So, even below 500 miles one way, you’re like 20 or 30 times more trips than you have flights and when you finally get to that 500 to 1000 mile distance, you start to then see air travel begin to pick up, and once you get beyond 1000 miles, that’s where air travel really takes over.
But it’s amazing to think of 1000 miles in one direction and most people are preferring to drive rather than fly. And so, I’ve thought about that and you start thinking about a trip, what do you have to do? You have to book the flight, you have to drive to the airport and that means you have to get to a commercial airport. Then there are parts of the country, and I have a son-in-law who leaves over 3 hours from the nearest commercial airport. So you’ve got a more than 3-hour drive to get to the airport, then you have to be there 2 hours in advance, granted, it’s a smaller airport, so maybe they can get there 1 hour in advance, but that’s at least 4 hours before your scheduled flight time you have to leave your home. Then you go through security and you have the strip search that you do with TSA, checking your bags, all of that kind of nonsense, then you wait for your flight. Now, you wait for flight, you board, you fly to where you’re going, and in this case for my son-in-law, because they’re at a small airport, unless they’re coming to see us or some other major hub, have a connection.
So now, they’re going to no, wait at the connecting airport for their next flight and then finally get to their destination airport unless there’s yet another connecting flight. You now end up your destination airport, you have to get your bags, then you find a rental car or somebody’s picking you up, and then you drive to your final location. Your final location, again, could be up to 3 hours away. So you start padding all of this up, and typical air travel is really
6 to 24 hours. It is crazy how long it takes when you look at door-to-door travel time. And so what we’re really saying is with an aircraft like ours, instead of driving the 3 hours to the nearest commercial airport, in this case, my son-in-law would drive there literally 5 minutes to the county general aviation airport that they live near. They have 5-minute check in, they show their driver’s license to a pilot, there’s 10 minutes of walk out to the plane, getting buckled in, reading the standard safety announcement, taxing out, and taking off.
And now you fly directly to some other airport that is close to where you want to be. So when you fly to a general aviation airport, maybe it’s a commercial airport but it’s probably a general aviation airport, and now with Uber and Lyft and other means of transportation, again, you’re probably within 20 minutes of your final destination. Most people live within 20 minutes of an airport, just not a commercial airport. And so with your within 20 minutes of an airport, you just cut down your flight time, particularly, if you don’t have to go through TSA and all of that advanced waiting and you don’t have connections, you’re flying point to point. You’ve just cut your travel time by, you know 50%, 75%, 80%, 90% in some cases. It’s phenomenal how quick air travel can be if you can fly direct.
Paula: Right. And the alternative to that would be to get on a NetJets, or something like that, where you still going from a fairly larger airport where
NetJets has a presence or have them come pick you up and then fly you somewhere, in which case the expense would be for 4 people. You can’t do a serious, you’d have to do a small jet of some kind. Yeah, exactly.
Michael: And if you wanted a small jet?
Paula: Right. And the expense for that would be astronomical for the typical family. So, John and I get on our car, our land yacht for trips of that size. We’ve gone 500 miles from Salt Lake City to Orlando for the NBAA convention simply because we, well, part of that is I want to take all my toys, my computers, my soundboards, and everything else, and it’s too big for a carry-on and I don’t want to check-on bag with this stuff, you know? So I can see using one of these really, really easy as opposed to booking a NetJets or getting on a commercial flight. But, yeah.
Michael: And that’s real it. It’s about, it’s about convenience. Yeah. If you look at some of the companies that sprang up around the Eclipse jet that was designed to have a point-to-point service. At that time, there were a number of things that are different. One of them is that we didn’t have ground-based transportation like we do today. So there’s a lot of Bluebird and Lyft have made a huge difference, making regional air transportation from general aviation airports much more appealing. In addition, we have more of a sharing economy today than we did then. Getting in something other than a known taxi cab just wasn’t heard of it that time. And even today, how many times do you share a taxi cab with somebody? With the sharing economy of Uber and Lyft, you have the option to say, yeah, I’m willing to share in order to save some money. That’s very uncommon unless there’s a group of you that are all traveling together. So, again, the norms have changed today as well as the economics. Actually, from deregulation in the 70s until today, we have seen fewer flights from basically a loss of commercial airports.
And so, you end up then with those that live outside the largest hubs getting less and less service. And following the pandemic, we have seen with the shortage of pilots, that the major carriers are actually cutting service to smaller routes. And so again, we’re seeing a consolidation, an increase of fares, and yet lower levels of service, especially to those smaller commercial airports. The hubs are great, so if you live in Salt Lake, like I do, you can get from Salt Lake to Orlando, 4 or 5 times a day and it’s a really cheap flight. That’s because there are 30 major hubs, and those 30 large hubs have great service and great rates. But you go outside those 30, and as you move down the list of commercial hubs, it becomes increasingly difficult to get a competitive fare and to get times that work for people’s schedules. You could end up easily spending a night out of town simply for connections, and so people say, you know what?
In fact, my daughter did this in one of her jobs. She’s like, ”I figured it out one day and it takes me actually longer to fly, and if I take a rental car, I’m on my schedule, I can listen to a podcast like this or do something else. I can stop whenever I want to for a potty break or get some food, or take a picture of the scenery. I can’t do that on a flight.” And she’s like” I don’t have the flexibility of the automobile when I get to my destination.” So, she’s making customer visits and it’s like, I’ll just take my car.
Paula: Yeah, exactly. To pivot just a little bit, another thing that you guys have in common is that you were both innovators. Mark has worked with The Skunk Works, the Lockheed Martin Group, and Mark, I don’t know if you wanted to tell any stories about that or if you have any thoughts you wanted to add on that note.
Mark: Oh well, I wasn’t doing any innovating, but I was part of a huge innovation on the STOL[?] aircrafts and the U-2 aircraft, and given my age, I was in Lockheed, California company. But, yeah, I agree with Michael. Even just the recent travel that I’ve been doing, the airline’s just they roll the airports, up now it’s 11 o’clock, if you miss a flight, you’re just out of luck. Now, I had to stay, I just sleep on the floor in Chicago last summer, and I saw the adjusters that I’ve met just last week in Dallas. Some of them do fly their own aircraft [inaudible] for adjusting business when the weather is good instead of driving and network with… typically, will be at the airport, so maybe your car. So this one member, she covered most of Ohio, so she can, she can get anywhere she wants in Ohio with their own aircraft. Well, yeah, and they’ve gotten away from those, used to be at the hub in the spoke system which doesn’t… looks like the spokes have gone away, so [crosstalk] there’s definitely a need.
Michael: Yeah. There’s definitely a need, and one of the things that’s nice when you eliminate some of the inefficiencies of our current aircraft designs, is you can use the same amount of energy or fuel to go more quickly. So the current crop of general aviation aircraft are wonderful, but if we look at the typical speeds, the most GA aircraft that we fly, have a cruise of 120 to 180 knots. There’s a few that are quicker, but that’s kind of the general realm. And then you jump up to the turbo props, and they’re running, typically, in the high 275 to low 300, 310, 325 knots, and then you get into the jets, which are above that.
Paula: It’s true. Right.
Michael: Well, the thing that’s kind of interesting about our design is that fits in between those and that but the higher end. So we are incredibly efficient, and right around 260 knots which is a great way to travel if you’re a general aviation pilot, and yet it easily can push into the low 300s, 325, 340 knots. So you’re now right up there with the turboprops. So it’s really kind of an interesting thing to think about. By simply changing the airframe, you can change really the economics of the airplane because now you have the economics of a piston but you’re flying in the realm of a turboprop, or you can fly along with piston speeds, but you have the efficiency of a light-sport aircraft. So it really changes how you think about airplane economics.
Paula: Right. That’s absolutely true. All right, well, let’s wrap up just a little bit in terms of, maybe tell us what is the next stage that you’re looking for Michael, and how can people find you if they want to know more about the DBT airframe, and all of the fun things that you’re doing?
Michael: Well, our Double Box Tail, which is where the name DBT comes from, the Double Box Tail, and information about the company is on our website at dbt.aero. Also, we are always looking for great people to add to our team, whether that’s as advisors, or engineers, or marketers, whatever. Growing companies are always looking for more talent and, of course, anything that grows, you need to put fuel on it if you want it to go and that fuel in aviation is money. So we’re always looking to talk to folks that are passionate about aviation and want to see the company grow. So, we’d love to talk with you in whatever your capacity is.
Paula: Fantastic. Mark, why don’t you tell us about the cocktail this week?
Mark: There’s cocktails called Ops Check Good.
Paula: Ops Check Good.? I love it. All green marks.
Mark: Well, yeah, I just took put some context in there, like on my backgrounds, was this maintenance and so, I was thinking about how many times did I have to write? Luckily, after whatever we were doing, part of the sign-off with a Repair Station, we would always write Up Checks Up or Up Checks Good with a line item by it, it stamped off. So, I’m just like I’ve probably done that thousands of times, so I decided that would be a fun name for this cocktail.
Paula: It’s a great way to end the day, so I love that.
Mark: Yeah. Ops Check Good..
Paula: Fantastic. So what’s in it?
Mark: All right, so this one is… and actually, I want to… I’ve got this book credit to Donna, it’s called The Gilded Age Cocktails.
Paula: Thank you, Donna.
Mark: [Inaudible] History, lore, and recipes from America’s Golden Age,.
Mark: So, now, this cocktail is in the spirit of what I read out of this book and so, I actually, just want to… I invented or it’s a derivative, an old-fashioned, but it’s much better. One ounce of Tullamore Dew whiskey, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but it’s an Irish whiskey and it’s extremely smooth. One ounce of Vermouth with foam, a teaspoon of simple syrup, and orange bitters. Then in a cocktail shaker with ice, give it a good shake, pour it into your favorite glass with, I recommended a orange garnish.
Paula: Shaken, not stirred, and with an orange garnish. That sounds actually fantastic. Now, much better than an old-fashioned.
Mark: Yes. It is much better. I think I’ll make a good after-dinner cocktail also because it’s a song, it’s very smooth, nice and sweet, with orange most flavor to it.
Paula: Cool. Sounds like a nice desert, so we’ll include the recipe on the website and that sounds fantastic. All right, well, let’s wrap up. I’m Paula Williams with ABCI, we help aviation companies sell more of their products and services.
Mark: Mark Parry, Global Aircraft Group, or Aircraft Appraisals, [inaudible] aircraft and oversight maintenance, freebie inspections. We have we also have… we’ve added A&P IA services. We also have a financing group, aircraft financing group that we were just getting launched hopefully, next month, and insurance adjusting.
Michael: And I’m Michael Duke, at dbt.aero and we’re making fast,100% sustainable flight, both affordable and quiet.