Just 10 days shy of his 30th birthday, the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Ascension Aircraft was featured Monday in Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” issue. This is the third year the financial publication has honored ambitious, up-and-coming “stars” in 15 business fields.
The 2002 Evans High School graduate, who placed in the energy and industry category, joined NBA star LeBron James, Tumblr founder David Karp, musician Bruno Mars, Snapchat app creators Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy.
The newest division of Larkins’ company, fractional or “time-share” ownership of private planes, led to the national recognition, he said.
The idea originated in 2010. Larkins wanted to expand and saw fractional ownership of small aircraft, a concept that had worked well with larger corporate aviation companies, as a profitable venture that could translate to his operations.
Owning a plane is just too expensive for many private pilots, he said.
The average general aviation pilot flies only three to five days a month, he said, and the most popular single-engine plane, a Cirrus SR22, can cost more than $800,000.
After more than a year of research, Larkins gambled and started the division in January 2012.
“Within 18 months of our very first flight with our first customer, we became No. 1 in market share here in Atlanta and looking now to expand to our second location, and hopefully duplicate that throughout the country,” he said.
Ascension Aircraft also offers aircraft sales, leasing and charter services. By the end of 2013, the company had 20 full-time employees, generated more than $9 million in revenue and announced plans to open his second base, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., this spring.
Larkins’ first company, Larkins Enterprises, started when he was still in high school and continues to offer consulting to aviation companies throughout the U.S.
In addition to his recent Forbes’ recognition, Larkins was named “No. 1 Entrepreneur in the United Sates” in 2009 by Inc. Magazine, one of the “Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under the Age of 25” in 2009 by Business Week and “The 100 History Makers in the Making” in 2010 by CNBC.
Larkins has been flying since he was 14 years old, in Canada because he was too young to meet U.S. age limitations. At 15, he formed Larkins Enterprises and started selling flight training materials to local pilots and later online to fund his passion.
“I looked around at my local airport, and everybody I saw that was flying as often as I wanted to fly, they were professionals or they owned their own company,” Larkins said. “I was like, ‘I can’t get a full-time job while I’m in high school, but nothing says I can’t start up my own company that will allow me to be able to do this.’”
While attending aviation school at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2004, Larkins started Aviation Marketing Group as a way to provide marketing solutions for aviation-related firms. The company expanded in 2006 to include leasing and sales, and Larkins changed the name two years later to Ascension Aircraft.
Larkins said that although he feels proud of his accomplishments, it also gives him motivation for the future.
“You may start up a company and have a little bit of success, but you always realize that there’s more that can be accomplished,” he said.
Larkins serves as an ambassador for the Federal Aviation Administration, acting as a spokesman to raise awareness that the aviation industry will be facing a pilot shortage in coming years and attracting more people into the field.