Published on Pacific Coast Business Times in Latest News on July 29, 2016
By Alex Kacik
Mark Oberman earned his wings by spotting swordfish for Martin V. “Bud” Smith around the Channel Islands.
Oberman, the president and founder of Channel Islands Aviation, would fly overhead of Smith’s boat, the Dry Martini, to guide the angler around the islands. That relationship with Smith — the renowned tri-county real estate developer and philanthropist behind Oxnard’s Topa Tower who passed away in 2001 — propelled Oberman into the aviation industry.
“One of the things we were doing to survive in Ventura County was fish spotting for different fisherman, one of whom was Bud Smith,” Oberman said. “He and the boat captain said ‘you ought to be flying out to the islands.’”
Oberman turned to Smith and his Commercial and Farmer’s Bank to help fund the purchase of his first aircraft. After the aspiring entrepreneur was introduced to the owner of Santa Cruz Island, Dr. Carey Stanton, Oberman embarked on his first charter flight to Santa Cruz Island in 1975. A year later, the Camarillo Airport took shape on what once was the Oxnard Air Force Base. Oberman and his wife Janie placed a successful bid to operate at the airport and Channel Islands Aviation was born.
“By the end of the first week, we had exceeded our projection for the end of the first year,” Oberman said. “The hangar was full, we were selling fuel. At the beginning we had one fella who was answering the radio, the phone and drove the fuel truck. That didn’t last long.”
The family-owned, Camarillo-based company celebrated its 40th year in business by inking a new lease with Ventura County. Channel Islands Aviation signed a 30-year lease in May for about 100,000 square feet of space housing its operations at the airport.
CI Aviation is the oldest full-service, fixed-base operator in the Tri-Counties, providing a charter service, a flight school, fuel, storage space, aircraft maintenance and sales, said Sarah Oberman Bartush, Oberman’s daughter and the company’s chief marketing officer.
“There are only a small handful of companies who do what we do from here to San Diego County,” said Bartush, who has run the flight school for the past 10 years with the help of her brother. “As the county has been growing, our charter business and flight school businesses have grown along with it.”
CI Aviation became a Cessna pilot center, Cessna service center and single-engine dealer in 1976 and quickly established itself as a one-stop-shop for those in the industry.
Several airports in the region have closed, like the Rancho Conejo Airport in Newbury Park, which left a void and created an opportunity for CI Aviation, Oberman said.
The company has multiple Federal Aviation Administration certificates and offers a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics in conjunction with Liberty University in Virgina.
The aviation industry has been experiencing a significant pilot shortage. A number of flight schools closing after Sept. 11, 2001 and through the recession — coupled with new regulations — have handcuffed the industry, Bartush said.
Pilots have to log 1,500 hours of total flight time, which is a drastic increase from the 250-hour standard in 2007, Bartush said. Fortunately, CI Aviation can grow its own pilots, she said.
“Airlines are scrambling to get enough pilots,” Bartush said. “To become a pilot you have to make a $75,000 to $100,000 investment until you’re eligible for hire. It does take a while to see a return on investment.”
Going forward, the company aims to add at least two jets to its charter service fleet in 2016. Oberman was 28 years old when he started CI Aviation, which at its height employed 65 people. Oberman and his current staff of about 40 have endured four recessions. He said he has been lucky to have the support of his family the entire way through.
“We have three generations here,” Oberman said. “I am exceptionally lucky that the kids want to continue the business and do it better than dad.”
• Contact Alex Kacik at email@example.com.