AUGUSTA — Maine Instrument Flight, a company with more than seven decades of history at the Augusta State Airport, has been sold to an Idaho company that has pledged to build on what is already in place.

SprintBach Aviation plans to invest both in the flight school and the charter business as it extends its reach from its base in southwest Idaho.

“We’re serial entrepreneurs, and we like that aspect of running businesses,” Zach Erlebach, principal of SprintBach Aviation, said. “We fell in love with the legacy of this business, and we’ll figure out how to make the business work. But we’re going to do that with the community’s help, and we’re going to invest heavily in the employees and keep going.”

The deal, a transfer of stock, closed Dec. 8. The value of the transaction was not disclosed.

Maine Instrument Flight encompasses a charter business, maintenance shop, flight school and fixed-base operator that offers support services to general aviation.

Zach Erlebach, principal of SprintBach Aviation, speaks last week at Maine Instrument Flight at the Augusta State Airport. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The company, founded by William L. Perry in 1946, was jointly owned by his children William H. Perry and Shirley Perry Whitney until the sale earlier this month.

“We were looking for history, not a business to buy,” Erlebach, 31, said.

SprintBach Aviation worked with business brokers to find prospects, initially without much luck. What they found did not pique their interest, so they kept looking.

“We found Bill (Perry) and we flew out here without much expectation,” Erlebach said. “Then we sat with Bill and Shirley and we swapped more stories that we talked about business. We just fell in love with it.”

Perry, 81, said he and his sister had considered selling more than a decade ago, but interest in acquiring the business was not there. There were tire kickers and people who wanted to see what an airplane looked like, but no legitimate offers.

About a year ago, Perry said, they decided to try again with the Inbar Group, a business brokerage that focuses on the Northeast, when it opened an office in Augusta.

Perry, who will continue as president of Maine Beechcraft, a standalone business, said the potential exists for expansion for the organization, including the flight training.

Brenda McAleer, associate provost and dean of the college of professional studies at the University of Maine at Augusta, said she was aware Perry and Whitney were considering moving on from the business.

McAleer said she met with Erlebach and Morris a month ago, and their first question to her was if she wanted UMA’s pilot training program to grow.

“I said, ‘Absolutely,'” McAleer said.

While all details have yet to be ironed out, the memorandum of understanding between Maine Instrument Flight and UMA, signed eight years ago, remains in effect.

“The contract does not change, because when Bill and Shirley sold, Maine Instrument Flight was sold as a unit, and our contract is with Maine Instrument Flight,” McAleer said. “We’re looking forward to working with the new owners. I think they are going to come in with some different ideas. It’s just a new chapter in our relationship.”

McAleer said she was aware about a year ago that Perry and Whitney were interested in selling the company, and she was concerned about who might buy it.

“This is a very small state, and people work on relationships and trust,” McAleer said. “After meeting with Zach and Chad (Morris), I am so relieved and looking forward to moving forward with them.”

Morris, 34, is president of Sprintbach Aviation and a U.S. Navy veteran.

Ashley Werner, left, operations manager at SprintBach Aviation, and Chad Morris, president of SprintBach Aviation, listen last week as Bill Perry, co-owner of Maine Instrument Flight, speaks at the Augusta State Airport. Maine Instrument Flight is being sold to Idaho-based SprintBach Aviation. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The first focus for the company, he said, will be the UMA program.

“What they didn’t have before is someone who has been through a veteran program and been through a university program,” Morris said. “I already know a lot of the ins and outs of how it works, how it’s supposed to function and how to draw veterans into the program. The primary focus for the school is how do we get more veterans.”

Morris said he had been a flight instructor at a large flight school in Idaho, where Erlebach earned his pilot’s license, and they started talking about finding a way to do a business together.

Erlebach said the flight school and the charter business, which will augment the company’s existing charter business in Idaho, is where the company will invest heavily. The flight school presents a unique opportunity because of the demand for pilots, which is expected to extend into the next five to 10 years.

“You can get your pilot’s license and not have an education to go with it,” Erlebach said. “But airlines are much more comfortable if you can have both. And you make a lot more money. Young pilots can come out of the university program with the ratings they need and they can make a lot more money in the market.”

Morris said the new owners plan to become part of the community and increase what already exists, including the relationships Perry has developed.

Members of the Erlebach family own and operate several businesses in the Treasure Valley of southwestern Idaho, west of Boise. Among them, SprintBach Aviation.

“We’re really diverse and we’re really successful in building businesses,” Erlebach said. “We’ve taken businesses that are really nothing and turned them into something. We really like that.”


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