Flying solo

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Some famous sports figures have climbed into the cabin behind Perry Barinowski's cockpit. Ice skaters Scott Hamilton and Tara Lipinski. Golfers Mark Calcavecchia and Raymond Floyd. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

"You talk about picking up someone famous, go to Canada and pick up Gretzky," Mr. Barinowski said.

The president of American Airlines once climbed into a private corporate jet under Mr. Barinowski's command.

Mr. Barinowski has 20 years of experience in private aviation, most of it in the corporate world, shuttling executives and the well-to-do in need of privacy.

"Freddy Couples, he's my favorite passenger. No matter when you pick him up, morning noon or night, he gets in the back and takes a nap," Mr. Barinowski said. "We found out he likes candy bars, so we'd stick some back there. He had very few needs."

For nearly a year, Mr. Barinowski has been in business for himself, sliding out of corporation-owned aircraft and into his own plane.

AirStat's office is sparse, with roughed-out plywood walls and carpeting he installed himself. Mr. Barinowski said the only reason he has an office in his hangar at the Thomson airport is to hang Federal Aviation Administration certificates on the wall. His office phone is a wireless that is with him all the time, though it is turned off when he goes thousands of feet into the air.

"Airline guys got it made: They look at the papers and get on," the 47-year-old pilot said. "I load the bags, I order the food, I arrange for fuel, I file the flight plans, I fly the plane, coordinate the maintenance. A one-man circus."

At least, he doesn't have to cook the in-flight meals -- there's a caterer in Thomson for that.

The Augusta native flies out of McDuffie County because of the proximity to his Appling home. It is also closer to the growth areas of Columbia County, he said.

"From Belair Road, this is 20 minutes," Mr. Barinowski said. "The growth potential is here. I do a lot of business in Atlanta, people call me from St. Simons (Island, Ga.)."

The world of aviation is competitive. Mr. Barinowski is trying to attract non-executives to AirStat by marketing his air taxi service as an alternative to major airlines.

"It is jet-level, high-end service in a small plane. Not just selling A to B, it is service and details for you. It is not just for people in Hollywood or executives," he said.

Paul Roberts, a friend of 25 years, had this to say about Mr. Barinowski: "He is a composite of several Robert Redford characters. He doesn't look like Robert Redford ... he is a combination in personality. I'm thinking Out of Africa and The Sting ... "

Mr. Barinowski is that handsome, dashing pilot, Mr. Roberts said.

Mr. Barinowski has flown a few Hollywood stars, including Morgan Freeman, but those have been rare. Most of his passengers have been executives and business owners.

"When people think of corporate aviation, they think all these CEOs are vacationing in Paris on the stockholders' money. There's a little of that going on, but most of what occurs is business," Mr. Barinowski said.

His passengers are getting from one office to another, conducting the meeting and getting back to home base without the time constraints of the commercial airline scene.

"It is a valuable tool. If your company needs a tool like that, they should have it," he said.

In business for himself, Mr. Barinowski has a more diversified client base. He has even hauled freight in his twin-engine 1977 Piper airplane:

"You call, we haul ... so long as it can fit in the airplane," he said with a smile. "A company in town needed some parts in Louisville, Ky. Flew up there and got back so they can keep their line moving."

He chose the 30-year-old plane for its weight-bearing capability.

"There are not a lot of airplanes out there until you spend $2.5 million that will carry the weight that this one carries. I can carry 2,000 pounds of people and fuel in the air," he said.

It has six seats.

"People look at an airplane, and if it isn't an airliner, they think it is a little airplane and they're afraid of it," he said.

The pilot, not the plane, matters most, he said, asking: Would you rather get into a trashed-out cargo plane with Chuck Yeager in the cockpit or a sleek new jet with a person right out of flight school.

People ask him whether he can fly a 747.

"If someone pays me to," he responds. "You can fly anything once you learn to fly. To get into a different airplane, it is all about knowing the limits."

Earning his wings

Mr. Barinowski was born in Augusta in 1962 and grew up in the neighborhood around A. Brian Merry Elementary School in west Augusta. He was the oldest of three children born to Clarence and Sylvia Barinowski.

"I don't come from an aviation family, my dad was in the Air Force, but he wasn't a pilot," Mr. Barinowski said.

He grew up reading with fascination books such as 30 Seconds Over Tokyo .

His first flight in an airplane was memorable.

"Dad charted a four-seat airplane for fun. My brother got sick, and I loved every second of it," he recalled.

Aviation as a career wasn't an option presented to him in school. He didn't know what he wanted to do after graduating from Academy of Richmond County, so he went to Augusta State University and earned a degree in political science.

"I wanted to get my ticket punched and get out," Mr. Barinowski said. He had a minor in journalism: "Just about the only thing I could do in school was write."

Without an interest in politics or law, he looked briefly to the Air Force, which didn't have a need for him.

Mr. Barinowski got his first flight lesson as a sophomore at ASU.

"I had gotten some info on flying lessons and just showed at Daniel Field," he said.

The flight instructor planted the seed in his mind that he could fly as a career.

Mr. Barinowski went to Daytona Beach, Fla., to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for two years and emerged in 1986 with an aeronautics degree.

"I finally knew what I wanted to do and went at it," he said.

He returned to Augusta and started his career as most young pilots do, as a flight instructor.

"You've got to do like an apprenticeship in aviation. You've got all the licenses, but you don't have any experience, so no one is going to hire you," he said. "You've got do an entry-level job to get the flight time before someone will take a serious look at hiring you."

It takes about 1,000 hours of flight time to get a better job. Putting in those hours on a pilot's money is expensive, about $35 an hour in the 1980s.

"That's why people will haul a banner up and down the beach, flight instruct and fly parachutists," Mr. Barinowski said.

Flight business

After a couple of years of instructing at Daniel Field, Mr. Barinowski got a job flying a corporate plane.

"That led to another one," he said, and his career track was set.

One downside to a career in aviation is the lack of parallel moves.

"You get into a career track: military, airlines, corporate, freight hauling. You stay. There's not a lot of movement," Mr. Barinowski said.

He had thoughts over the years of working for an airline, but that would have required going to the bottom of the ladder despite his corporate-jet experience. These days, that option is off the table. Airlines are for a younger crowd that can take sharing an apartment and puddle-jumping for low pay, he said.

Mr. Barinowski was looking for work when he met his future wife in 1993. Sherry was a medical student at the Medical College of Georgia.

"We met through some relatives of mine who thought we should be together," Mr. Barinowski said. The setup was at an after-church lunch at a cousin's house.

"It was painfully obvious," Mr. Barinowski said. "We sat together at lunch, and I did my best to impress."

It worked, though, and he asked her to marry him after four months of dating. They were wed in December 1993, less than a year after meeting.

She had gotten a family practice job in her hometown of Rome, Ga. Mr. Barinowski signed on as a pilot with a corporate travel company nearby.

"Personal networking is how you find a job in my industry," he said. "Applications are shooting in the dark, you have to know somebody."

After two years, he signed on with a larger firm, Raytheon Travel Air, in the beginning of the mid-1990s trend of businesses buying shares of corporate jets.

Raytheon would later merge with a Cleveland company, Flight Options, forcing Mr. Barinowski to move to Dublin, Ohio, for a couple of years. In all, he spent six years flying executives around the country.

During his time with the company, he became a "check airman," testing other pilots in his company: "I would go to Wichita and live in the Hilton. Across the street would be the airport. The pilots would come to me."

Mr. Barinowski sat with them for two hours of desk work and two hours in the air, doing such things as simulated engine failures. Pilots also had to suddenly correct after he positioned the jet "out of whack."

The most memorable was trying to trick a pilot who once flew F-15 fighter jets.

"I gave him such an aggressive one that it went screaming through the red line -- the top speed allowed for the exercise -- 16,000 feet headed down in a hurry," he said. "Well, you can't rip the wings off. It took until 8,000 feet to get it level. Note to self, never do that again."

Mr. Barinowski left the timeshare corporate jet scene because he was tired of being gone from home 16 days a month.

The new level of airport security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks didn't help. Crews would take a flight to wherever the jet was parked at the time of the crew changeover -- requiring a one-way ticket.

"That's four airline rides a month. I'm in a pilot's uniform. I've got a passport, frequent sleeper and frequent flier programs ... they would ping me every time for special screening because I would buy a one-way ticket," Mr. Barinowski said.

It happened often enough that he kept records of the extra security checks: 35 times in eight months.

Mr. Barinowski turned his attention to flying charter and began thinking of starting his own company. The initial application to the FAA for AirStat went out in 2007. The federal agency lost the paperwork.

There aren't more air taxis because of the difficulty, the red tape and the ownership of the plane without being able to use it, he said.

AirStat has a silent partner who owns the plane who is a "very understanding individual who knows that it is going to take awhile," he said.

The air taxi service opened for business last May.

On the airwaves

The Barinowski clan moved closer together, putting up houses near Appling on land owned by his father. It is also the home of the Good News Network, a group of Christian radio stations run by Clarence Barinowski.

When not flying, Perry Barinowski helps the mostly volunteer organization by lending his voice to recording station IDs and daily Scripture readings. In Augusta, the station is WLPE-FM (91.7), and there are 28 more in the network stretching into North Carolina.

He has his own office and recording studio at the radio network headquarters. The darkened room is dominated by aviation, with pictures of planes and his collection of autographed dispatch sheets.

"The most important thing to me is my faith in Christ. Without his blessing, I wouldn't have this kind of opportunity," he said. "On the human side, I have an incredible wife whose patience and understanding I couldn't do without. Her encouragement just means everything to me."

His voice isn't the only talent given to his faith. He plays the keyboard for Westminster Presbyterian Church on Wheeler Road every Sunday.

"My mom made me take piano lessons from when I was 8," Mr. Barinowski said. He was a typical boy in hating the piano, but his mother was insistent.

"And then they got me a different teacher who was a younger guy, an organist at one of the churches here," Mr. Barinowski said.

From sixth grade onward, he liked the piano, becoming an instructor to earn money in college. He has been the substitute piano and organ player in other Augusta churches over the years and has led a few church choirs.

Mr. Roberts said his friend has filled in for him whenever he can't be at the organ at First Presbyterian Church.

"I've recommended him for other engagements when I get a request," Mr. Roberts said. "He loves music, and he has tinkered with writing a little bit and arranging a little bit, which I do a lot of."

They share a love of the pipe organ. Though Westminster doesn't have one, Mr. Barinowski found a keyboard that emulates one.

"I'm so out of the times, I love the pipe organ and a choir," he said.

Mr. Barinowski said he sneaked onto a pipe organ at Cambridge University while on vacation in England. It got him kicked out: "Apparently, you've got to get permission first."

Asked whether it is more difficult to teach piano or flight, Mr. Barinowski has a diplomatic answer: "It is easier to teach when you've got a student that wants to learn."

His sons, Perry II and Jackson, are 9 and 6, respectively, so there's no pressure to know what they want to do with their lives. He doesn't want them to learn to fly and solo an airplane before adulthood.

"They love going up with dad. I'm not going to make them pursue my career," Mr. Barinowski said. "I want them to learn an instrument, play a sport and solo an airplane. What they do after that, we'll see."

He said his younger son already has airplane-recognition skills. He said he will teach his sons to fly, although that is predicated on how they feel about their father when they are 15.

"If you've got something together with your kids, you can build a relationship around it," he said.

They're studying jujitsu together now. It is a Japanese martial art based on joint locks and throws.

As in flight, landing is the hardest part, but they teach that in jujitsu, too.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or


TITLE: Owner, AirStat

BORN: Jan. 14, 1962, Augusta

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in political science, Augusta State University; aeronautical science, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

FAMILY: Wife, Sherry; sons, Perry II and Jackson

HOBBIES: Piano, reading, photography

Comments (2) Add comment
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VoteER 03/09/09 - 01:35 pm
Congratulations Perry. You

Congratulations Perry. You are very deserving of your success. I really appreciate all the miles you hauled us around over the last couple years. God Bless!

bpaynech53 03/10/09 - 07:06 pm
Mr. Barinowski, first and

Mr. Barinowski, first and foremost God Bless. With faith you can accomplish any thing. I will include you and you family in my prayers for your story has given me much encouragement. I am trying to find my God directed path, and your story was and is well needed not only for me but for countless more people. Get in alignment with God and you can and will soar. God bless and keep you.
I would like to commend the writer, (Tim Rausch) for presenting a well balanced story. Mostly I would like to thank you for including in your interview the importance and impact that Mr. Barinowski's faith plays in his life. Thank you for not falling to the worldly pressure to glaze over this area of Mr. Barinowski's life.
Thank you Bothe again and God Bless.
B. Payne Walburg TX.

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