You think you have a rough commute?
As a pilot for UPS, Jason Roberts routinely flies from his home in Pensacola to the massive UPS air hub in Louisville, Kentucky – about 480 miles one-way.
That passion for flying also led him and friends to start Renegade Air in Escambia County, a passion that Veterans Florida has helped fuel with the SkillBridge program providing an opportunity for mechanics with military experience to bring their skills to the civilian world.
Jason grew up in Panama City with his father assigned to Tyndall Air Force Base.
“If you grow up around an Air Force base, what kid doesn’t think that flying an F-4 or F-15 would be a great job,” he said.
But he originally started on a different path, majoring in advertising in 2001 at the University of West Florida until 9/11 changed the world.
“I had a young family … (news of 9/11) hit as I was walking through the commons area at UWF,” he remembers. “Turned the whole world inside out.”
He graduated from UWF with a BA in Advertising and Public Relations.
Jason considered his options and settled on applying for Air Force Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
He went to pilot training in 2009, picked up an M.A. in Business Management from the University of Arkansas in 2011, and ended a successful military career in March of this year.
As he prepared to leave the service, Jason recognized that many people wanting to get their private pilot license and training couldn’t afford it.
“It just appalled me, the cost to these guys to get their training and licenses,” he said. “It actually made me pretty mad.”
Thus, Renegade Air was created with turning a profit as a secondary goal.
“We started a very small company, about as small as you can get,” he said, recruiting new veterans to maintain the aircraft while being able to get their hours and training to become a pilot.
“Some of these guys have experience working on airplanes … If they have time to get their license, we help them which saves them money. The payback for us is we have these planes maintained,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”
Jason and his partners turned to SkillBridge to recruit for Renegade Air. With progress slow, he turned to Veterans Florida. We have already placed 11 veterans with positions at Renegade Air with one ready to start.
“We found (Veterans Florida) just googling,” he said. “You guys helped me put together a syllabus for the manager program. Derrick (Fraser) and everyone else gathers all the resumes for me. We (the owners) couldn’t do all that as part-time owners. Now, I just give the applicants a call and lay out the expectations.”