Michael Hutchins began his aviation career in the vast and complex Michael Hutchins began his aviation career in the vast and complex world of aerial application, initially loading aircraft and eventually, through hard work and determination, working his way to flying for the company that he now owns, Custom Air. Starting over 30 years ago, Michael Hutchins started working ground operations for Custom Air during high school and learned to fly while he was attending college. 1996 marked his first season as an agricultural pilot. Michael flew for Custom Air for the next 10 years until he purchased the business in 2006. Based in Roe, Arkansas Custom Air has evolved over the last three decades from aerial spraying, to custom fabricating parts and STCs to now bifurcating into two distinct disciplines, with his newest venture focusing on serving the aerial firefighting industry, Coastal Air Strike.
After a successful acquisition of Custom Air, Michael Hutchins began his journey into aerial firefighting by gaining accreditation to work as an aerial firefighting pilot during the off-season. He worked his first season fighting fires in Oklahoma for John Schwenk, then owner of AeroSpray Inc, which would later go on to be bought out by another company.
In 2010, Hutchins began investing in aerial firefighting aircraft as an additional business focus, purchasing the company’s first Air Tractor AT-802, adding a second in 2015 and a third in 2019. This growth pattern continued to build over the years into what is now a purpose-built business from the ground up that serves multiple states on fire contracts. Over the next several years, Hutchins would continue to build the business reputation as a quality operation under the Custom Air brand.
In 2019, Michael along with some of his friends in the industry became aware of Fletcher Flying Service potentially being for sale. Fletcher Flying Service was a Florida-based operation that functioned like Custom Air as part agricultural spraying operation and part aerial firefighting operator. After negotiations, the sale was finalized in 2020. At that time Custom Air became a separate business from the aerial firefighting operation, and Coastal Air Strike was formed. This created a new brand dedicated to the aerial firefighting world. With the purchase, came the addition of aircraft and business premises in Florida.
“The idea is that you take some new guys, incorporate them with our more experienced guys in the company training session, where they start out really really simple with classroom stuff in the morning, then talk about what we’re going to do in the afternoon. Then in the afternoon session, we take what we learned in class and apply it to the real world.”