Get to Know Above and Beyond Aviation, Austin’s Premier Flight School
Expert flight instructors are introducing Austin locals how to fly the friendly skies
What is it about flying that is so enticing to humans? We don’t naturally belong in the air, but we seem to have an innate desire that fuels us to reach higher.
The history of aviation dates back more than 2,000 years, beginning with kites and tower jumping attempts. The famous Wright brothers built the first successful powered airplane in 1903. Since then, humans have become regulars in the sky — transcending our biological fate as land animals.
My dad was a pilot and spent more than 40 years flying various aircraft — from his time as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot in the Vietnam War to his long career as a commercial pilot for Southwest Airlines to flying private jets for business people. I spent much of my childhood in airports, hangars and planes. I saw my sister and cousin become pilots, and — when I wanted to try some lessons for myself — everyone I asked in Austin mentioned Above and Beyond Aviation.
I took a few lessons at Above and Beyond this past summer and was impressed by the convenience and care they infused into the process. When I first reached out, Bobbi Farris (co-owner and administrator) walked me through each step — including booking an aviation medical, enrolling in the complimentary online course and setting me up with an instructor based on my personal preferences regarding what I wanted to get out of the lessons. The instructors were skilled and respectful. They gave tips on how to get the most out of my time and money. The whole experience was enjoyable — and, of course, the actual flying kept me coming back.
George Farris had the desire to fly from a young age. His father, like mine, was in the Navy, but he worked as an airplane electrician and remained active throughout George’s childhood. That meant a lot of moving around the country as well as a lot of time spent around naval air stations. George also grew up watching the TV series, “Sky King,” where a rancher used an airplane to fight crime.
“I thought it was so cool for it to be your job to fly around,” he says. He moved to Austin in 1970, with about $10 in his pocket, to attend the University of Texas. During school, he was reminded of his dream of becoming a pilot when a man he was working for (who was learning to fly at the time) would take George on flights. Knowing George had interest, he told him he needed three things to get his license: money, motivation and time.
In that era, it cost $1,000 to get a private pilot’s license, and he was making just $25 a week, just enough to stay in school. Then, after graduating, he lacked the time as he built a successful video game business called Farris Family Amusements. Finally, in 1995, when George was in his 40s, he finally had the money and time (the motivation was always there).
The fact that he could use the plane for his current business made it an even easier decision. And so, through the University Flying Club, he got his license and started flying.
He became a part-time instructor as a way to earn extra money to send his daughter to UT. He never intended on starting a school. But then, when the flying school where he was working went bankrupt in 1999, and he somehow found himself with four planes, it only made sense to start his own.
It was important to him to make the process as simple and affordable as possible. Unlike most other flight schools, there is no on-site staff. Instead, you meet your instructor at the hangar and are billed later with a credit card on file. While George still instructs from time to time, he has around 16 instructors and 16 planes so students have plenty of options. His wife Bobbi started working for Above and Beyond around six years ago and has been instrumental in managing and maintaining the recent unprecedented growth.
About 24 years since its founding, Above and Beyond Aviation is one of the longest standing and most popular flight schools in Austin. With two locations — Austin Bergstrom and Austin Executive in Pflugerville — it’s convenient whether you live north or south.
These days, most people spend between $13,000 and $23,000 to obtain their private pilot rating. It typically takes three months to a year, dependent on study habits and frequency of training.
“The ratio between career path students and hobbyists is about 50/50,” Bobbi says. “For the hobbyist, they use their license to do a wide variety of things: visiting friends and relatives, vacations, business trips, and of course, simply the pleasure of flying.”
I met with 25-year-old Joe Brush, one of the flight instructors, who moved from Ohio to Texas to follow his passions: flying and teaching. Texas has year-round flying weather, making it a great place for those trying to get hours in the air.
“I love working with different people,” Brush says. “Being a flight instructor allows me to help individuals reach their goals while also sharing one of my passions every day.”
When I met Joe to watch him with his current student Seth Redlus, who was finally realizing his lifelong goal of learning to fly, the joy in the whole process was palpable. They discussed the weather and flightpath before heading outside to the plane to go through the preflight checklist together. As they taxied and took off, I found myself dreaming of the day I’d have the time and money to return to my own training.
Maybe we fly to escape a world that often feels heavy and mundane or to see that world from afar as a reminder of how small we are. Whatever the reason, many people do want to learn how to get higher. With Above and Beyond, you can learn how right here in Austin.