Riding out a frequently turbulent economy often takes a steady hand.

Markets enjoy the lofty highs, but tremble at the devastating lows. Navigating the extremes can be hard for any business — especially when its your small business that faces grounding.

Bill Christian, owner and operator of Blue Ash Aviation, and his wife, Amy, know all about the ups and downs that come with owning a small business. The Christians have been working together in some fashion since they married 20 years ago.

Their current enterprise, Blue Ash Aviation, is a conglomeration of all things airworthy. Customers of the business, which is located at the Blue Ash Airport, can either tie down or hangar their aircraft, receive repairs when needed, charter flights, or take lessons to become certified pilots.

Bill says the decision to move from the couple's previous business — a construction and historic renovation company — was sparked by his love of aviation and a timely opportunity.

"I took my first flight in 1974 and didn't do anything with it," Bill recalls. "We were working on some houses at one point and Amy encouraged me to take the time to get my pilot's license. I eventually became a flight instructor and took a position here. The owners retired, so the opportunity presented itself to exchange mud and boots for flying an airplane and doing paperwork."

Bill notes that he and his wife see the lion's share of their business from the flight training and charter components. Both have grown in recent years, partly due to a new form of pilot's license the Federal Aviation Administration created to allow an average person to learn to fly with as few as 20 hours of training.

Chartering, Bill adds, has helped many local companies become regional economic players without blowing expenditures through the roof.

There is really no comparison between flying and driving," he insists. "Driving takes you forever, and flying gets you there faster. You don't deal with construction, delays or crazy drivers. You're all alone in the air; you take off and fly to your destination. We can travel 400 miles in a few hours."
The Christians' 5 Tips for Entrepreneurs

1) Always plan ahead. Knowing what you're going to do and what you might face will not only help you overcome it, but will also help you find the funding to get started.

2) Get to know your bank. If you don't have have startup money, you don't have a business. Also, shop around; some smaller banks can be much friendlier to smaller businesses than their larger cousins.

3) Take care to hire the right people. Good employees not only represent your operation but also keep it moving smoothly.

4) Know how to do every task. Not only will you have to train new employees but you also may have to fill in from time to time.

5) Expect late nights. Running your own business isn't easy and, in the end, it's you who is accountable for anything that goes wrong.

A typical charter, Amy explains, can take a single person or group of local businessmen and women to Chicago in an hour and 15 minutes, about the time it takes to navigate through security, check-in and the terminals at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. More advantages include cost, which is per-plane, not per-passenger, making flights of larger groups more economical. And unlike major airlines, there is no increased cost premium for booking a flight that departs in the near future.

Amy adds that the incredible ease of both flight training and chartering has seemed to confound a lot of customers.

"One of our biggest challenges is just how surprised people are at how easy it is to learn," she says. "They think this is so daunting, but they come in and realize that if you're 14 or 80, you can come and learn to fly."

Small, piston-driven planes, Bill says, are not only cheaper to charter than jets but also more versatile. Able to land in smaller airports, a piston charter can get you to any of more than 5,000 airports in the United States, placing you much closer to destinations hours away from a larger airport. And with travel speed remaining comparable, the cost savings can be considerable for many businesses.

"The connotation for charter is it's only for millionaires who can afford $2,500 an hour," Bill explains. "(But) our prices are much lower than that."

Advances in aircraft have made flying not only more convenient, but safer. Newer weather technology lets pilots view the same satellite maps you see on TV, giving them the necessary tools to avoid inclement weather systems. And for the aspiring pilot, many of the newer small planes — especially light-sport aircraft, which are small planes with only one or two seats — feature simplified controls and even built-in parachutes that allow the entire aircraft to float to safety should anything go awry.

The Christians say the success of small aviation businesses depends much on local attitudes and actions. "You can have local governments who support your airports, and those airports will thrive," Bill explains. "Unfortunately, if our local government doesn't believe in an airport, that airport is in for trouble."

Such support can take the form of subsidies and tax breaks that allow development to continue, Bill says. In return, local governments and businesses alike benefit from the influx of increased traffic that translates into more money and business brought to the local market.

Airports, Bill explains, are designed to import business and revenue. "Airports are a delivery for economic stimulus, just like roads. They both provide transportation to different places."

With their entrepreneurial spirit as strong as ever, the Christians are now negotiating with a Spanish company to acquire exclusive rights to manufacture the Toxo, a light-sport aircraft. If their plans unfold as hoped, the Christians will seek a suitable location for their startup manufacturing and assembly facility, which could begin employing 25 to 50 people in the first stage, Bill says.

"We won't be stealing jobs from Indiana or Kentucky or anywhere else in the United States, but rather importing jobs from another country," Amy notes. "When you talk about growth, that's really neat stuff. We really believe that one thing America manufactures better than anyone else is aviation."