Mountain Lion Aviation, the on-demand Part 135 operator in the Lake Tahoe basin, continues to find favour with its TBM 930, which was delivered in December 2017. The company, which started life in February 2017, was the first in the world to fly charter missions on the type, and also runs a Cirrus flight school.
“We live in an area with six or seven ski mountains and a huge alpine lake; it's a really big tourist destination and we have a lot of second home-owners from the San Francisco bay area and other places around the world,” explains chief possibilities officer Devin Noe. “As well as the Part 135 operation and flight school, we also have a maintenance centre, all based at Truckee airport. We focus on serving a small and elite group of clientele using three SR22Ts, two SR20s and a TBM 930.”
By the end of October 2018, Mountain Lion had accumulated 438 hours on the TBM, moving more than 350 passengers in the process. “Our chairman is on the Make-A-Wish Foundation board, so we go direct non-stop to Dallas, Chicago, Indianapolis, and we are able to get in and out of some of the more mountainous airports,” Noe adds.
“Our chairman is a pilot and loves flying aircraft. In terms of speed and travel for an elite businessperson, this was the plane that really worked, because it gave him the ability to get to his destination quickly, and for us time is the big factor. The TBM is built by a French company so it is designed for getting in and out of the French Alps. Even though we are way up in the mountains, we are able to be really mobile with the TBM, and some of the other aircraft are not. So the speed, the reliability, the team and the maintenance all work really well.
“Its Garmin G3000 avionics suite was also really appealing to our operations as we plan to scale up into bigger aircraft; that suite is in a lot of the next-step-up jets. It is important to have that element of safety with the avionics. The Cirrus aircraft we have are equipped with G1000 and the Garmin Perspective cockpits.”
The response to the TBM has been overwhelmingly positive: “Our clients love the speed of it and the ramp presence is great too. Pilots love flying it; we have worked with a family of four with two dogs in the back, a party that comes up every weekend in the aircraft.
“The short runways are another crucial factor for us, such as San Carlos at 2,200 ft. Other aircraft in the TBM 930’s speed category cannot get in, and airports like San Carlos are our bread and butter.”
Mountain Lion is considering moving up into the next class of aircraft but has no fixed plans at this stage as to what the model might be. Judging by client feedback, the operator's next aircraft will most likely feature a bathroom on board. Noe says that the wishes of customers will dictate the direction that Mountain Lion takes. “We started out as a little Part 135 operator and found a niche,” she says. “Our main focus is serving our existing clients and making sure that they are happy. We are available 24/7 and always on the end of a phone if needed. This is changing the way that people interface with aviation. We get notes from assistants that are blown away, because they can call and book in times with us and we make it happen.
“Sometimes with the TBM we book in people that need to go to four or five different locations in a day, such as Scottsdale in Arizona, then hitting a meeting in LA and so on. It really opens up their options to be in quite a few different places in one day. We have lawyers that will go to San Diego, LA, Santa Barbara and back, up to seven destinations. We have heard that clients require a bathroom, so we will be looking into that in the coming year.”
Lake Tahoe straddles California and Nevada, which makes for an intriguing operation. “Being based in California is pretty good for our operations, and we work with the tax authorities to carry out out-of-state work,” says Noe. “California has very high property taxes, whereas the state of Nevada doesn’t have any income tax. So there are a lot of very wealthy people that want to live on the Nevada side, which creates opportunities. Down in Reno, Tesla just started its Gigafactory, so that area is blowing up as well, and Switch is also moving to Nevada. So once again we focus on the elite level clientele, including the CEOs of these companies and those buying houses in Truckee, Tahoe.”
Female college sports sponsorship has been another fascinating avenue; Mountain Lion Aviation is the presenting sponsor for the women's Wolf Pack athletics programme at the University of Nevada, supporting more than 200 student athletes. Says Noe: “I played soccer at college and the college is right down the hill here in Nevada. We are the main sponsor for all female college sports at the University of Nevada, and we got the division one sponsorship title, which is a really groundbreaking scholarship.
“We are running internships too, so there are plenty of philanthropic activities going on. We fly athletes, doctors and coaches as part of the partnership. We also sponsor the world’s biggest UFC team, team Alpha Male out of Sacramento, who train and compete across the world.”