Tim Allen has been the proud owner of Western New York Skydiving since 2009. He insists that creating WNY as a skydiving business was kinda-sorta as much a surprise to him as it was to everyone else. But he followed the passions that magnetized him to create it – and ended up founding one of the region’s most beloved skydiving centers. In that sense, the story of WNY Skydiving is a pep talk for anyone getting ready to follow their dream and is wondering how to start a skydiving business.
How Do You Start a Skydiving Business?
“The story I usually tell people is that I owned an airplane and I had a bunch of skydiving ratings,” Tim laughs, “so I was one tandem rig away from starting my own drop zone. I really enjoy skydiving, and it turned into a business I enjoy equally as much.”
When Tim earned his first skydiving rating in 2001 – not long after he graduated the solo skydiver training program – it was in a spirit of service. The skydiving center where he was fun-jumping needed some reliable help to do tandems, so he gamely stepped up to the challenge and got a tandem rating. When they needed help doing AFF, he earned his AFF rating. When they needed a Coach Examiner, Tim went out and got that rating, too. Within a couple of years, Tim ended up with a big stack of skydiving ratings, all earned in the name of helping out – and he was about to trump them all with his next move.
“I ended up purchasing an airplane for them,” Tim says. “They used it for about six months. So then I ended up with an airplane and all these skydiving ratings – so I said ‘what the heck’. And I decided I was going to start my own skydiving business.”
Step 1: Find the Right Airfield
The first step in starting a dropzone, of course, is the epic-level ‘house-hunting’ that has to be done to find the right airfield home. Tim started his search on familiar territory, at the airfield where he was storing that first airplane over the winter months. He asked the airport administration folks if they’d be amenable to Tim hosting a few tandem students here and there, and they agreed. From those humble beginnings sprang a thriving skydiving business – and a thriving skydiving community to match.
About three years ago, WNY Skydiving had managed to outgrow its current environs. For about six months, the dropzone found a temporary home at a grass-strip airfield, but it wasn’t ideal. “The runway was actually uphill both ways,” Tim laughs. “The plane would start by going uphill and you would take off as you were going off the top. And there were 70-foot trees at one end.”
Tim started to realize that the only way forward was to – gulp! – buy his very own airport. “The airport where we are now has a great story,” Tim says. “The gentlemen who sold it to us told us that his family had owned the land going all the way back to the Hollands Land Purchase – which, if you are from my part of the world, is a big deal. His family farmed it for years and years.”
“He flew airplanes for the Navy in Korea,” Tim continues. “When he came back in the 1950s, his family set up an airstrip on part of their farm so that he and a couple of his Navy buddies that lived in the area could start an airport. He continued to own it and make these loving improvements to it, all the way up through the time we came into the picture. It was beautiful, with paved strips, hangars available, a nice place to land. It was about perfect, other than the fact we had to buy it instead of rent hangar space. But it felt right, so I knew that’s what we had to do. Everybody told me how incredibly silly I was to start a dropzone,” he adds, laughing, “but it has worked out. Luckily, they were all wrong.”
Step 2: Add Skydiving Planes
At this point in WNY’s history, the dropzone boasts two widebody Cessna 182s with all kinds of skydiving mods on them to be able to make them climb to altitude as zippily as possible. They’re some of the fastest 182s out there, making it to 10,000 feet in about 15 minutes.
“I get to see something I started grow to a point where I never thought it was going to,” Tim muses. “For instance: Three years ago, we decided we were going to rent a Skyvan and have a boogie at our dropzone. The logistics of being able to do that was tough – and the money involved for a small dropzone to bring in that large airplane. If the weather hadn’t worked out on that weekend, I probably wouldn’t be talking about ‘my dropzone’ today. But it was amazing.”
Watching that Skyvan take off from WNY Skydiving for the first time was an incredibly proud moment for Tim. “I have a video of it landing on my phone,” he grins, “and sometimes, in between songs, the media player will randomly play the audio from that video. It makes me smile every time. I go right back into that moment.”
Step 3: Work Really Really Hard
Running a dropzone is certainly not always easy. Sometimes, in fact, it’s insanely hard work. “The first year we were jumping was crazy,” Tim recalls. “One day, for instance, we booked nine tandems. On that day, I had two different part time pilots flying for me, and I jumped all nine tandems [as the Tandem Instructor]. I packed all nine canopies. I shot all nine videos, and I edited them all later. I was so tired when it was done – but it was worth it, because five of the nine students that jumped that day were part of a group that comes back every year. They are coming back again this year, and it is fun to remember that exhausting day and then see what WNY Skydiving looks like now, with twelve amazing tandem instructors on staff, half of which started jumping right here.”
Step 4: Love What You Do and Don’t Forget To Have FUN
The reason those instructors stay and grow in the sport at WNY Skydiving is simple: the people. “It is a fun drop zone,” he grins. “And very unique. The first thing is our gender ratio: The USPA calculates that something like 90% of skydivers are men, but it truly is 50/50 at our drop zone. I don’t know why, but that’s how it works here.”
“We’re also proud to take people with disabilities for tandem jumps,” he adds. “I took a quadriplegic fella out of a Skyvan last year. He hadn’t been able to get out of his wheelchair in ten years. He had a motorcycle accident and he used to love being able to ride really fast on motorcycles – one day, he rode too fast, and he lost the ability to move his arms and legs. When we got down, he was crying because he was so happy that he got a chance to feel that adrenaline again. That kind of stuff is amazing – to be able to help people in a really unique way.”
These days, Tim insists that WNY Skydiving is in it for the long haul. He still loves skydiving! When he’s free, he likes to jump with his wife, a fellow skydiver whom he met when she was his student. He and the WNY team remain fully committed to the work, welcoming more and more students as each season passes, steadily growing the dropzone’s fantastic community.
“Western New York skydiving is not just a business – it’s a community,” he adds. “I’m really happy that it has grown that way. This is going to sound cliché – but it’s true. Without everybody else that jumps and works here, there is no dropzone. It is really fun for me to see this dropzone succeed, and know that everybody around me really wants and works for it to succeed as well. Because without that, I know it wouldn’t.”