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Winding road to recognition

Once he rededicated his energy to flight training in 2019, the founder of a home movie theater installation business quickly progressed from private pilot to CFI with multiengine and instrument instructor ratings. Fairbanks teaches at Code 1 Flight Training at Van Zandt County Regional Airport, about an hour east of Dallas.

The Central Southwest regional CFI winner said providing a welcoming flight training environment includes networking, airport cookouts, and other aviation events that break down barriers and help make flying more accessible.

“We’re actually in a small town called Wills Point, Texas, and we probably have about 3,000 people in the county. It’s a little bitty place, but the small flight school has a huge impact on the community because of our personal approach.”

Fairbanks credits U.S. Air Force Academy graduate Norm Rathje, a 2018 AOPA Flight Training Experience Award winner, for being a “great flight school owner” who exemplifies flight training because of his “very, very calm and very, very professional” demeanor. “I came into a fortunate situation where Norm showed me a route and allowed me the freedom” to explore boundaries. “He’s just the ideal example” of a mentor, Fairbanks said.

Fairbanks said adapting aviation concepts and practical skills to a student’s specific learning environment helps them better absorb what it takes to earn a pilot certificate or additional ratings. “Trying to get a feel for the individual, talking to them about their goals within aviation, and then making sure we reach their expectations” help keep the teacher and the student focused, he said.

Fairbanks praised other members of the East Texas flight training team for his recognition as an outstanding regional flight instructor. “I don’t think it was all me, by any means. I think it’s the students that I had worked with. It’s my chief pilot, Norm. They’re the folks that made this happen. I was just fortunate to be there and be blessed by it. So, I appreciate all their hard work, all the doors that opened [for me], and everything else that goes on in the general aviation community.”

Fairbanks has recently added corporate flying assignments in an Embraer Phenom 300 to his skill set; the jet-flying experience allows him to bring real-world commercial flying insights to his students.

Thinking about previous jobs and comparing them to his life as a flight instructor and as a commercial pilot helps motivate Fairbanks to pass along flying skills to others. “Look, I get the best office view out of the front windscreen, I get to meet a variety of different, new, and interesting people, and I get to help them reach their aviation goals. With all of that combined—every day is a great day in aviation for me.”

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