“I’ve wanted to be a pilot since I was a little kid, but for a long time it didn’t seem possible,” Mike Grossmann, president of Castle Aviation, told AIN. Born in Germany and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Grossmann and his family moved to Youngstown, Ohio when he was 14. “Not once did we live anywhere near an airport, so when I finished school I went with my second choice and became a firefighter.” In 1978, after working fires for three years, Grossmann and his wife decided to move to Kansas City, Mo. “I had accepted a job with the fire department there, we had a house lined up and within one day of closing on our Youngstown house my wife changed her mind and didn’t want to move.”
So Grossmann made his wife a deal. “I told her we’d stay in Youngstown but I wanted to take flying lessons. It worked, and I took my first lesson in March 1978. It took me about two years to get all the ratings, and in early 1980 I was offered my first flying job at the airport in Grove City, Pa. It was only 50 miles from home so I worked there as a firefighter and on my two days off every week I flew,” he said. It lasted until Aug. 11, 1983.
“I was on my way home after flying a trip when I was involved in a serious accident. I spent six weeks on my back with nothing to do but think about my future. I kept thinking I could run a company better than the outfit I was working for and decided it was time to go it alone,” Grossmann said.
After talking with consultants he developed a business plan to become an air ambulance broker. In January 1984 he started Air Medical Transport, based out of his home in Youngstown, Ohio.
The business grew and by late 1985 Grossmann decided to start an FBO on New Castle Airport and call it New Castle Aviation. That name soon changed. “We decided that Castle Aviation would be a good generic name that would give us greater flexibility,” Grossmann said.
The FBO never materialized, but in January 1986 the name Castle Aviation became Grossmann’s corporate name. By May the following year, with aircraft based at various FBOs and still operating out of his home, Grossmann purchased his first commercial property, acquiring a 3,600-sq-ft hangar with 1,200 sq ft of office space at Portage County Airport in Ravenna, Ohio.
With a permanent facility, Grossmann began maintaining his own expanding fleet of Cessna Caravans. Eight years later he moved into a facility on the north end of the airport that was twice as large. Eventually he outgrew that as well and moved into a 14,000-sq-ft building across the airport.
In February 1999 Grossmann had an opportunity to move his operation to Akron Canton Regional Airport, where he would eventually settle into a 30,000-sq-ft hangar and office complex. A series of business dealings led him to Akron Fulton International Airport (AKR). He moved his entire operation there in July last year.
Castle Aviation is currently situated in the 200,000-sq-ft building that was the final assembly hangar for the Goodyear Corsair in the early 1940s.
“I really hope this is Castle’s last move,” Grossmann laughed. “All told we’ve moved seven times, and believe me that’s enough.” Castle is now operating two dba entities: Castle 1st Class, which is dedicated to providing passenger transportation; and Castle Air Cargo.
In 2004 Castle became the world’s first operator to fly the Saab 340A cargo conversion. The acquisition was followed shortly by the company’s first jet, a Cessna 525 CitationJet, along with the delivery of another new Cessna Caravan Supercargomaster and a lease for a sixth Caravan.
Castle Aviation accumulated a significant amount of maintenance expertise in the course of doing business, and when Summit Air–the airport’s FBO–wanted to divest itself of its maintenance operation, Grossmann stepped up. “We took over their maintenance with an agreement under which we service everything from light general aviation aircraft to light business jets, providing both light and heavy maintenance,” he said.
Today, Castle Aviation’s maintenance facility has some 10,000 sq ft of hangar space, 5,000 sq ft of backshops and an additional 2,700 sq ft of office space.
“We do hot-section inspections,” said Grossmann, “and remove and replace engines for overhaul, do sheet-metal work and more.” The company also works on Pratt & Whitney Canada, Lycoming, Continental, Garrett and Williams engines.
Grossmann is working with Cessna to become an authorized Caravan service center. “We’ve been operating and maintaining that aircraft since 1997, and offering maintenance makes sense for us. We’re not an FBO. We operate aircraft and maintain them. We understand customer service because we’re our own customer too.”