Small Business

Cleared for landing: A case study on Aztec Airways

Meet Stu Hanley, Founder and President of Aztec Airways, an airline operating out of Fort Lauderdale’s Executive airport:

When Stu created his airline, he didn’t expect his first passengers to be prairie dogs.

This first flight (which was a volunteer effort for a local animal rescue group) wasn’t typical for Aztec Airways, which operates both passenger and cargo flights to the Bahamas and Caribbean. But Stu still chuckles thinking about it, recalling singing songs like “Who Let the Dogs Out” and “Home on the Range” to them. “That seemed to keep them calm on the flight,” he laughs.

At that time, Stu still had a day job — with a dad who was a pilot and a mom who was a stewardess, it should come as no surprise that he ended up piloting for decades. However, he explains that “it’s nice to have a Plan B, so I decided I was going to create my own airline.” Now, Aztec Airways, which is based at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, “has grown to the point where it really needs full-time supervision.”

Since starting his business in 1998, Stu’s gone from one small plane and a credit card to a fleet of six airplanes and 15 employees. However, this journey hasn’t come without its challenges — he’s had to weather a number of storms.

While some storms were of the physical variety — most recently, Stu had to temporarily relocate some of his planes to avoid damage from Hurricane Irma — some of his biggest storms have been related to financing. “It’s very difficult to find financing for airlines. I have run around $2 million a year through my local bank for the last eight years. I have a perfect banking relationship with them, but they still wouldn’t work with me — they just wouldn’t give me a corporate loan.”

This lack of funding was especially problematic in early 2017, as Stu desperately needed a pair of engines for one of his airplanes. “Our core business is flying airplanes. When an airplane goes down for lack of parts or lack of engines, it’s very hurtful — it’s crippling to a company.”

Things weren’t looking good. It wasn’t that Stu couldn’t find funding at all —  some lenders were eager to offer loans with 45% interest rates — he just couldn’t find a company that would give him fair terms. “It’s scary out there when you’re in a corner and you need money. There are people that prey on you and I’m fearful for what’s out there in the banking world right now.”

“I was really at my wit’s end until I found Funding Circle.”

Fortunately, Stu found Funding Circle by browsing the web late one night. Immediately, he could tell that we were different — that we would lend based on the track record of his business, which has been profitable for years — and sent in an application.

Soon after, he was approved for a loan with affordable rates and got the funds he needed to purchase both engines. “To be able to capitalize two engines in one shot was huge. Funding Circle came through for me right when we needed them. It was a breath of fresh air — hope for the future. Getting approved for that loan really changed my life.”

“Funding Circle was simply the best choice. It was really great.”

Since getting the loan, Stu has purchased the engines he needed and gotten his airplane in the air again, which has helped his cash flow a lot; just one plane can generate half a million to three quarters of a million dollars a year in revenue.

More importantly, Stu’s optimistic about the future. Not only has he found a lender that he knows will treat him fairly if he ever needs more funding, but he also anticipates doubling the size of Aztec Airways in the next two years. “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades,” he says with a smile.

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