Unexpected Career – Chance encounter reveals flight path

Unexpected Career – Chance encounter reveals flight path

Unexpected Career – Chance encounter reveals flight path

Growing up, Joe Casey had no idea he’d own an aircraft-related company one day. It was really a fluke that he discovered aviation at all.

“When I graduated from college with my non-aviation degree, I didn’t have a plan of what I was going to do,” he explains. “I decided to drive halfway to the next town, stop at every business I came to and ask for a job; the airport just happened to be located within that span.”

While the airport didn’t have a job for him, officials there offered a ride in the back of a Cessna 172 during a training flight.

“I was completely hooked the second we left the ground,” he said.

Life-Changing Experience

In 1999, after eight years in the Army full-time, he transferred to the Army Reserves and joined the ranks of airline pilot to start the career he thought he wanted.
He didn’t like it as much as he thought he would, though, and as was the case for many airline pilots, he was furloughed after Sept. 11, 2001.

That’s when he started flying a Piper PA-46 Mirage for a private company, which Casey says taught him as much about business as aviation. Seven years later he launched his own company, Casey Aviation, based at Cherokee County Airport (KJSO) near the East Texas city of Jacksonville.

What started as a small ven­ture providing flight instruction in the PA-46 has grown into a multifunctional aviation business with three full-time employees in addition to Casey, who has logged 15,100 total hours. The company still gives flight lessons – and Casey, a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) in many models of aircraft (including the King Air 300/350), continues to provide checkrides – but after 11 years in business, the firm also acts as an aircraft buyer’s agent/broker, manages two Beechcraft King Airs and offers ferry pilot services.

Casey’s life changed that day and so did his career path. He decided he wanted to fly for a living, so he joined the U.S. Army as a warrant officer flying Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. He quickly earned instructor pilot (IP) and instrument flight examiner (IFE) ratings.

“The company experienced slow, but sustainable, growth on purpose,” Casey explains. “Although more gradual, expanding the business 100% debt-free allows me to sleep better at night and keep my stress level low.”

Casey Aviation has two flight instructors and one sales division manager, in addition to Casey who oversees the business and jumps in where needed; all four are pilots and instructors. The company also employs two part-timers, one who’s in charge of keeping the aircraft and hangar clean and a photographer who captures photos and video of the aircraft.

“We have a great team en­vironment and are really more of a small family than co-workers,” Casey says. “If something needs to be accomplished and the primary employee who usually carries out the task is unavailable, someone else will jump in and get it done.”

Joe Casey, owner of Casey Aviation based in East Texas at the Cherokee County Airport (KJSO), has flown every variant of the King Air and says the Model 300 is his favorite.

King Air Connection

Casey Aviation manages two King Airs, a 1989 Model 300 and a 1979 B100, both having had avionics upgrades to Garmin GTN 750 panels. The King Airs are used by private businesses and each fly about 125 hours per year, mostly within an 800-mile radius of Jacksonville.

Casey believes there’s no better airplane to handle “mission creep” than a King Air. He explains that what started out as a need from their client to fly four to five people about 450 nm morphed into often having eight-plus people and bags on longer trips.

“Had we bought any other airplane, we would have needed to move up but the King Air fleet is so adaptable that we just load up more people and go,” he says. “Since we have the two King Airs, sometimes we’ll take both when we’ve got a larger number of people that need to travel.”

Casey Aviation also completes a number of King Air ferry flights, including about 10-15 internationally each year. In 2019, Casey said they landed at 29 different countries on trips to India, the South Pacific, Africa, China, South America and Europe. These trips usually provide a variety of special operating conditions.

“We endure everything Mother Nature throws at us, oftentimes on the same trip.” Discussing a specific journey ferrying a King Air, he recalls, “We’ve taken off from Saudi Arabia in above 125 degrees Fahrenheit temps, flown an ILS into Iceland with howling winds and battled some serious ice in Canada, and the King Air performs with ease.”

A King Air on the ramp in Narsarsuaq, Greenland (BGBW) being ferried by Casey Aviation to India. (Ben Casey)

Casey has flown every variant of the King Air Model 90, 100, 200, 300 and 350 and says the King Air 300 “is simply my favorite airplane in the world.” Casey Aviation employee Deanna Wallace, who also flies the managed King Airs, as well as ferries them, agrees, “The 300/350 series is my favorite, as I have found very little it can’t do, but I have grown a certain fondness for the stepchild of the family, the B100, since flying it the past two years,” she says.

Wallace, who is CFI/CFII/MEI-certified and has logged almost 7,000 total flight hours, says she first fell in love with King Airs in 2002 when she flew right seat in a King Air 300. “I feel that the King Air (all models) is absolutely hands down one of the hardest working, finest performers on the market. With a model that will fit almost any mission, you can’t beat it in payload, performance or economy.”

Spreading the Love

Casey’s love for flying shows through in his business and his employees. In fact, his son Ben, after gaining his master’s degree and working in the business world in Dallas/Fort Worth, joined the company to manage aircraft operations and assist with brokering services. Although he obviously grew up around aircraft, Ben didn’t start logging hours until 2017. He now holds CFI and CFII certificates and doesn’t plan on stopping there. He also instructs in the piston PA-46 for the company. 

Besides the King Airs, the company has a variety of airplanes in their hangar, which Casey says sometimes surprises their clients. “I love tailwheel airplanes and believe the best pilots in the world will fly a tailwheel airplane regularly to stay proficient in the bigger airplanes,” he explains.

Casey Aviation operates efficiently with three full-time employees, as well as owner Joe Casey, and two part-time employees. Pictured above (front to back):
Deanna Wallace (King Air pilot/PA-46 instructor), Clint Goff (photography), Josh Best (sales manager), Ben Casey (aircraft management/PA-46 training),
Joe Casey (owner/DPE/pilot) and Clay Cleaver (aircraft detailing and facilities).

You will find a 1940 Porterfield, a 1994 Pitts S-2B, a 1990 Piper Super Cub, a 1961 Beechcraft N35 Bonanza and a 1978 Cessna 310Q in the hangar. Casey says they are all flown regularly. “Our pilots usually fly about 600-1,000 hours per year, partly because we fly some really long flights, partly because we instruct a lot and partly because we just love to fly.” He continues, “If we don’t have a King Air or training flight scheduled, we usually find one of the tailwheel airplanes and go for a fun local flight. We think flying more makes us better, so we fly a lot!”

Wallace adds, “Casey Aviation, under Joe’s leadership, is the first place I’ve been that I’ve not wanted to leave or even consider other employment options. I get all the hands-on flying I want with the King Airs, I get to instruct and help make safer pilots in high-performance, turbine, pressurized aircraft in the PA-46 world, and I get to pull out Joe’s 1940 Porterfield or an available Super Cub any time I get the itch to fly low, slow and with a wheel in the proper spot on the tail. If that isn’t enough, I got to fly around the world five times last year ferrying aircraft.”

She continues, “I am simply enjoying aviation at all the levels Casey Aviation provides. I found a kindred, aviation-loving spirit in Joe Casey and I plan on supporting his mission of ‘helping others get where they want to go’ for years to come. For the first time, I have found a career ‘home,’ flying whatever may be housed in the hangar, and fortunately that includes a couple of beautiful King Airs.” 

About the Author