From pilot to president: meet Levi Stockton

AvatarBy Levi Stockton | March 18, 2021

Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 32 seconds.

How did I get here? I get asked this question a lot. My name is Levi Stockton, and I am the founder and president of Advanced Air. What started as an aircraft management company in 2005 with myself flying charter, has grown into a corporate entity offering a Swiss Army knife of services: private charters, semi-private commercial service, corporate fleet management, corporate travel, and property management. This is my story.

Levi Stockton, founder and president of Hawthorne, California-based Advanced Air. Advanced Air Photo

Growing up with my mother across the water from Seattle, I would regularly travel between Seattle and Fairbanks, Alaska, to visit my father. I became quite familiar with flying as an unaccompanied minor on the commercial airlines, proudly wearing a sticker that identified my special status, which ensured I was the first passenger to board, and the last to deplane — always in the capable hands of a flight attendant who delivered me between parents. For me, the best part of this was the boarding process. Almost every time, I was introduced to the pilots and given the opportunity to see the cockpit — and sometimes even got to sit in one of the pilot’s seats. At a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to make sure those experiences never ended.

Directly out of high school, I headed to flight school and landed (pun intended) at Sierra Academy of Aeronautics in Oakland, California. At the Academy, I transitioned from zero time in a logbook to a multi-engine instrument instructor, teaching in both the Air China and Korean Air programs. Being a flight instructor is still one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

With the Sierra Academy experience under my belt, I moved on to flying cargo in a Metroliner SA227. This was the first time the phrase “drinking from a fire hose” actually made sense to me. I would spend 800 hours a year in the cockpit of the Metro, mainly flying car parts out of Mexico to the Northeastern U.S.

After a short one-year stint as a pilot with a regional airline, I needed to take a professional leap: moving to Southern California to accept a King Air 350 captain position. The owners of the King Air used a local charter and management company to manage the aircraft, and wanted me to fly the plane, manage the day-to-day operations, and generally liaise with the management company on their behalf. Not long after settling into this opportunity, it became clear to me that I wanted to own and operate my own charter company — and I was quite confident I could do so.

After accepting a King Air 350 captain position, Stockton realized he wanted to own and operate his own charter company. Photo Courtesy of Levi Stockton

Young and hungry in my early 20s, the thought of starting a business was both scary and exciting. Long-term vision, coupled with the ability to keep laser focused on short-term goals, has always been my super power. So, after multiple discussions and negotiations with my then-bosses, we became partners, and Advanced Air was born.

Forming a business philosophy

The initial objective was to amass 10 airplanes on certificate, including a mix of turboprops, light- and mid-size jets, and long-range jets. We wanted an airplane for every mission, all based at our home airport — Los Angeles-Hawthorne Airport in California — with the ultimate goal of creating an unmatched, world-class charter operation.

I needed a solid team to make this happen, so I gathered a specific group of friends and colleagues who I felt would be a good fit. My team included experts from the field who shared the same vision of creating an aviation company that was entrepreneurial, transparent, and had the proper programs in place to run like a well-oiled airline.

We dedicated ourselves to providing aircraft owners with a positive experience by fostering the idea that our company was made up of team members who also needed a positive experience. Supporting team members in the form of respect for time, resources, and knowledge has been a recipe that has resulted in mutual success for us.

Stockton (pictured) knew he wanted to be a pilot from a very young age; he would travel frequently, often getting the opportunity to meet the pilots and see the cockpit. Photo Courtesy of Levi Stockton

Taking the right steps

Operating as both president and chief pilot for the company worked in the beginning. But as we continued to grow and evolve, the business demands that required my attention became more process-based and administrative. The stark contrast of responsibilities of running a company and being a professional pilot were not a surprise to me, but the conscious decision to take a step back and fly less was a hard pill to swallow.

Stepping down from the position of chief pilot was a tough, but necessary, decision for me. However, I remain a qualified line pilot, and make the time to fly the line as often as possible.

Less cockpit time meant more time spent at the desk with my executive team. We spent our days building safety programs, scheduling teams, and solving aviation logistical problems. Eventually, our little charter company was robust enough to be approved to fly as a commuter airline. 

We expanded into daily serviced routes with our nine-seat turboprops, and later, 30-passenger jets. Maintaining our home at the Los Angeles-Hawthorne Airport — including a long-term property lease where we erected over 200,000 square feet of hangar space, and forming the award-winning FBO, Jet Center Los Angeles — has allowed us to control our destiny. As well, having multiple certifications, including on-demand and scheduled charter; commuter scheduled service; cargo; and hazmat, has allowed us to stay open to new opportunities.

Today, Advanced Air operates a fleet of King Air 350s, among other aircraft. Advanced Air Photo

Advanced Air today employs a diverse staff of over 100 individuals at various bases throughout the Southwest. Our fleet of 23 aircraft includes PC-12s, King Air 350s, Learjet 45 and 75s, Challenger 300s, and 30-passenger Dornier 328 jets. The aircraft operate a combination of scheduled airline service and on-demand charter, flying more than 10,000 hours annually.

What started as a pipedream became more than I ever imagined. Our goal of having a plane for every mission has been achieved. But I know these planes are only as effective as the team of people who fly them, both in the cockpit and on the ground. For them, I’m grateful.

I can only see us continuing to soar from here.

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