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The Future of Aviation in South Carolina

City-Connect Air Center Strives To Change the Future of Aviation, Private Charter in Columbia

Mark Oelhafen is changing the future of air travel and air commerce in South Carolina. Under his ambition, residents in and around Columbia can charter a private flight to the Bahamas or to places like Atlanta, learn to fly and earn a pilot’s license, take a chartered helicopter trip, store their planes and even have maintenance done - all in one location.

The City-Connect Air Center and City-Connect Air Shuttle are now in operation at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, and having so many services under one roof will change the future of aviation in South Carolina.

“It's really two separate companies. Under the City-Connect Air Center, we have our aircraft storage which would be hangar rental. We have office space inside for aviation. Then we have a flight school through Stratos Aviation,” Oelhafen said. 

“We also have charter for both plane and helicopter. We offer aircraft avionics maintenance here, which is brand new. All of these companies and offerings are huge impacts on the community because there's really not a flight school of any size around here in Columbia.”

Based in the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, Oelhafen’s sister company is City-Connect Air Shuttle, a 30 passenger jet that will have connections between Columbia and Atlanta, Columbia and Raleigh, Columbia and Bahamas, and other destinations.

“That was almost ready to go, but then COVID came in,” Oelhafen said. “We really did our homework and, and found that there was a demand for a shuttle service like that. You can show up to our office within an hour before departure, and we do the TSA right here. You literally get out of your car and get on the plane. We look forward to capturing those small little hops in areas that  aren't serviced.”

Oelhafen’s journey to becoming the founder of an all-in-one aviation center started when he earned his pilot’s license at age 16. After attending college to become an electrical engineer, Oelhafen purchased a number of small aircraft.

“That was pretty much the extent of that through my 30s. I had the license but I really didn't do anything with it. Later in my business, I purchased a software company, and then purchased another plane which I used to fly to my customers,” he said.

Oelhafen was based out of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport and had to rent space for his aircraft and business. When the building became available for sale, he jumped on the opportunity to buy the entire facility.

“I bought the whole facility which consists of three large hangars and two large office spaces in 2019,” he said. “I made the application to the airport authority to take over this facility. And then I started the process of upgrading it. It was in very sad shape.”

Oelhafen upgraded all the equipment, lights, runways, office interiors and more to make the aging hangars into an inviting facility. As a pilot himself, he recognized the lack of available hangar space, and he knew the need for a flight school was huge in the area.

The current tenants of City-Connect Air Center include:

STRATOS AVIATION

The founder of Stratos Aviation, Dimitri Partafyllas, finished his pilot training in Greenville, SC and has flown out of the Greenville Downtown Airport since 2000. In 2007, he became a flight instructor and since then, he and Stratos Aviation have been awarded several Federal Aviation Administration and AOPA aviation professional awards.

From the Federal Aviation Administration, Dimitri was nominated and selected as the SC District-General Aviation Flight Instructor of the Year for 2018 and 2019, for outstanding accomplishment and leadership excellence in the pursuit of the mission of aviation safety.

From the Airplane and Owners Pilots Association, Dimitri received the Southeast Region, the 2017 and 2018 Distinguished Certified Flight Instructor Flight Training Experience Awards.

With 20 years of flying experience and over 8,000 hours of dual instruction, he really enjoys teaching others to fly.

ROBINSON HELICOPTER LLC

Bruce Robinson, owner of Robinson Helicopter LLC, also signed on to City-Connect and is currently the only service offering helicopter tours and flights in the Midlands Area. He provides sightseeing, aerial tours of the capital city of Columbia, real estate flyover for properties that are being shown and a lot of air tours of Columbia and Lake Murray.

Bruce earned his wings with the U.S. Army and flew Apache Helicopters with the S.C. Army National Guard. He has a Commercial Helicopter, Instrument Helicopter and CFI Helicopter Ratings. At present, he will be operating a UH-12B model Helicopter and plans to expand to a two-ship operation soon.  He will be offering Air tours, sightseeing, Real Estate Surveying and Flight Instruction.

“Mark has a very nice facility because it provides everything that I need to operate out of,” Robinson said. “The local public comes right at the airport, and you have office space, conference room, hangar space and location.”

Because there are no helicopter services providing sightseeing air tours and flight instruction in the area, Robinson Helicopter LLC will be a  big plus for Colombia as well as City-Connect.”

AIRSTAT

Perry Barinowski of AirStat Inc., is also a tenant.
AirStat offers private point-to-point charter services.  AirStat, Inc. is a full-service charter company established in 2007, and with just one call, the company will arrange everything from hotel accommodations to aircraft that will take you to any destination in the world. AirStat currently operates two Citation Vs, and these aircraft combines the right mix of range, passenger load, and comfort.

Coming soon, to City-Connect Air Center, AirStat, Inc. will have both a Citation V and the newest member to our fleet, a Dassault Falcon 50, and these will both be based at City-Connect Air Center.

“We do a lot of flights for business people traveling and some family vacations. We also do organ transplant flights. When someone has donated an organ, they will send aircraft with the surgeon and a team to retrieve the organ and bring it back,” Barinowski said.  

“A business aircraft is an extremely valuable tool for a lot of companies. The beauty of the charter company is that it's not a long-term commitment. If you decide you want to use an aircraft, you pay for the trip, and after that, you're done. Families will often use charters to take a vacation since we travel to Canada, Caribbean, South America, Mexico and we'll be eventually adding the central Pacific which means Hawaii.”

Many people think that a private air charter is only for the rich and famous, but Barinowski said many couples or friends often charter one flight and split the cost, making it much more affordable than people think. 

“If you fly to Martha’s Vineyard or the Bahamas with four or five other couples, that first-class private air travel is more affordable than you think,” he said.

In addition, City Connect will help AirStat expand business and area of service by bringing high-quality charter aviation to Columbia.

"City-Connect and AirStat will be able to help each other grow as we offer a full range of private aviation services. The facilities at CAE are perfect for our needs and future growth," he said. 

 STEMME

The center then earned a high-end specialty tenant in Edgar Van Schaik, Managing Director of STEMME. STEMME is a German glider manufacturer that specializes in high-performance, motorized gliders. Van Schaik describes these aircraft as “lifestyle purchases,” and City-Connect offers the perfect mix of space, complimentary tenants, and location.

“STEMME is a luxury product. The majority of our owners have two or three other aircraft that they use to go from A to B,” Van Schaik said. “Whereas the STEMME is used in more of a recreational manner. It's the most beautiful form of flying there is. It's flying for the fun of it, and not just to travel. We have also incorporated a flight school, as there is plenty to study and practice when it comes to operating a motor-glider with an 82-foot wingspan.”

"Being partnered together with City-Connect allows for an overlap in both maintenance and training, along with the convenience of shared space and resources. What Mark is doing here at City-Connect is client-centered and solution-based, and truly it sets this facility apart from anything else.” said Van Schaik.

AMS COLUMBIA

Frank Schumpert, owner, and founder of Aircraft Maintenance Services Inc., (AMS) is an aircraft maintenance business for City-Connect Air Center as well.  AMS performs FAA required inspections on single and multi-engine piston and turbine aircraft.  Their capabilities also include avionics repair station along with 100 hour, annual and continued airworthiness inspection programs.

AMS provides service to help aircraft owners who have landed at airports with no maintenance.  They’ve traveled to destinations in the North, throughout the Southeast and as far as Haiti and the Bahamas.  Schumpert plans to grow his business at Columbia Metro, adding more maintenance services for City-Connect customers that will be available at CAE.   He is currently setting up equipment, parts and getting ready to operate at City Connect. 

Frank earned his pilot’s license when he was 21 years old.  He then went into aircraft maintenance earning his airframe and powerplant 1982. Later earning Inspection Authorization rating in 1985 and has been in aircraft maintenance since starting in 1978.

Frank started his own business in 1993 (Aircraft Maintenance Services, Inc.) and has worked throughout the past 28 years improving AMS to provide the best service for his customers and friends.

“City-Connect Air Center gives people a whole lot more options that aren't available; everything can be encompassed right here,” Oelhafen said.

For more information on City-Connect Air Center or City-Connect Air Shuttle, contact Mark Oelhafen at mark@city-connectaircenter.com or call 803-828-5518.


 

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