During the summer before entering college, Chad Verdaglio took an intro paraglide ride and immediately knew he wanted more. After researching programs in the area, the Scottsdale resident discovered Sawyer School of Aviation, a highly respected flight academy that was founded in 1961 and operated out of Scottsdale Airpark. Verdaglio’s goal was to earn a private pilot’s license. He spent weekends and school breaks for the next few years earning his instrument rating, commercial rating, multi-engine rating and, eventually, an instructor certification.
Fast forward to his post-college years with a bachelor’s in business in hand, Verdaglio worked in tech before applying to graduate school. Once again, he found himself looking for something to do for the summer before heading to the University of Pennsylvania to get an MBA from Wharton. He took the opportunity to focus again on his piloting skills. After seeing an ad in the local newspaper for a position at Sawyer Aviation, he returned to the flight academy and was offered a position as an instructor. What started as a summer job led to a full-time position, prompting the decision to put his MBA pursuits on hold. Ultimately, Verdaglio was presented with an opportunity to buy Sawyer Aviation. He couldn’t refuse.
There’s a quote from Sun Tzu that Verdaglio often cites. Tzu states, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” This aptly explains his approach to life and business as owner and president of Sawyer Aviation since 2002.
While the aviation company started as a small private charter company and flight academy, Verdaglio has spent more than two decades navigating through economic highs and lows and seizing opportunities. Today, the full-service aviation company specializes in private jet charter and medical flights. In early 2021, Verdaglio added SawyerMX to the mix, which offers 24/7 airplane maintenance services, and added operations out of Van Nuys airport as well.
Verdaglio is the first to admit the aviation industry is tough. The recession in 2009–2011 presented one of the biggest challenges. Demand for private aircraft and private charter flights plummeted, as people struggled to keep their businesses afloat and remain in their homes. “Generating revenue in a luxury market is difficult when people are not buying luxury,” says Verdaglio.
Verdaglio explains, “Working through difficult times forces you to face reality. At that time, we had to cut costs wherever possible and get creative with how to generate revenues.” Pushing forward spurred Sawyer’s expansion of medical flight charter services, along with aircraft management and sales offerings. Verdaglio adds, “Diversifying and pursuing new revenue paths can get you through the downturns.”
Securing funding for an additional 50,000 square feet of hangar and office space at Scottsdale Airpark was completed in early 2022. The added space is used for plane management and maintenance. It also allows Sawyer Aviation to offer its clients private hangar space, room to host events, training sessions and additional offices for its employees and instructors.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the travel industry took a big hit. Commercial airlines and airports sat nearly empty, Verdaglio seized the opportunity to expand Sawyer’s private charter offerings and grow its fleet through its shared management program. The benefits of flying private and private plane ownership offer new appeal; no shared crowded spaces, canceled flights or lost luggage. Today, the wait to purchase a private aircraft is as much as two years. However, there are financial incentives for business owners and companies that make the investment.
As the travel industry returns to pre-pandemic demand, increasing fuel costs, supply chain issues and pilot shortages present a new set of challenges. “Building strong relationships with suppliers is important through good times and bad,” explains Verdaglio. “It’s also imperative to invest in people.” In late 2021, Sawyer Aviation hired an HR expert as its chief of people to help further develop the company’s culture and to attract and retain skilled pilots and support staff.
In addition to leading the company, Verdaglio continues to enjoy his passion for flying. While strategizing the future for the company, he still spends a portion of his time soaring above the clouds. Whether it’s flying a business executive, a family on a private charter flight, or an organ transplant team with a kidney or a heart — he is taking Sawyer Aviation, its clients and its team where they need to go.
More than 60 Years in Flight
- Sawyer Aviation was originally founded by Darrel Sawyer in 1961.
- Sawyer Aviation was honored by Inc Magazine on the 2022 Inc 5000 fastest-growing companies.
- Sawyer Aviation has experienced 490% revenue growth since 2019.
Did you Know: Verdaglio has a patent pending for his invention of HALO, a device used to transport organs.