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Empowering Dreams: Stratus Financial Fuels Aspiring Pilots’ Careers

Empowering Dreams: Stratus Financial Fuels Aspiring Pilots’ Careers
Financing Solutions by Stratus Financial: Aiding Aspiring Pilots' Dreams with tailored loans for commercial flight certificates.
Financing Solutions by Stratus Financial: Aiding Aspiring Pilots' Dreams with tailored loans for commercial flight certificates.

[Press Release] Empowering Dreams: Stratus Financial Fuels Aspiring Pilots’ Careers


Originally Published by Ann Mazotta, California Business Journal on July 1, 2024

If the prospect of working an average of 80 hours a month, starting with six figures, and traveling the world for free sounds like an enticing career, it doesn’t have to be a far-off fantasy.

Despite to the perceived high costs associated with pilot training and gaining flight hours, the aviation industry is evolving to make this dream accessible to a wider range of aspiring pilots, not just the affluent or former military personnel.

Enter Stratus Financial, a pioneering private lender co-founded by CEO Anthony Geraci and COO Brandon Martini. Their mission? To provide crucial financial assistance to students pursuing their commercial flight certificates through tailored financing solutions.

Stratus Financial began its journey four years ago in Newport Beach where the company founders met through an entrepreneurs’ business group. At the time Geraci, CEO of Geraci Law Firm in Irvine that specializes in finance and lending law, approached Martini to obtain his private pilot license through Martini’s flight school. This training lead to discussions about the aviation industry at large.

“I had this idea of self-financing my students because I saw a need in the industry and asked if he could help,” Martini said.

Geraci returned a week later and said, ‘I’m not going to just create the documents for you; we’re going to create a business financing pilots nationwide and we’ll start with your school.’”

Initially partnering with Martini’s own flight schools, Stratus Financial rapidly expanded to 91 employees and a network of 260+ flight schools nationwide. This growth reflects a significant shift in the aviation landscape where non-collegiate flight schools are increasingly becoming viable pathways to achieving an Airline Transport Pilot rating – a prerequisite to flying with major airlines.

Contrary to common belief, military training is no longer the primary route to a commercial pilot career. Technological advancements and changing industry requirements have opened doors for pilots trained through private flight schools or collegiate programs, where the latter can often cost between $200,000 to $400,000. In contrast, Stratus Financial’s average loan amount of $85,000 supports students in achieving their goals to go from “zero to hero” more affordably, with some programs costing as little as $50,000 to $60,000 in regions with lower living costs.

“We fund up to $150,000 for non-collegiate programs, enabling students to obtain advanced certifications such as becoming a flight instructor or a multi-engine flight instructor,” Martini explained, highlighting the versatility and affordability of their financing options.

A student can earn a commercial pilot certificate or commercial pilot’s license with as little as 250 hours at most flight schools. Though it may be 190 hours under rare circumstances, and once you get 250 hours, you can become a fly-for-hire pilot – somebody can pay you to fly certain aircraft as long as you’re flying under specific FAA regulations.

Many go the flight instructor route, and after that, they’re paid to teach, “which is an interesting construct in the FAA,” Martini says.

Once pilots get their flight instructor certificate, they build hours by teaching. The United States has a minimum of 1,500 hours to get an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) rating, which is what most people consider a “commercial pilot” as that common usage is associated with someone who flies large jets.

“You can start out today with zero hours and finish completely if you spend anywhere from eight to 14 months getting a commercial pilot and flight instructor rating,” says Martini. “Then it takes roughly a year to get the hours needed to become an ATP-rated pilot. By the time you get to between month 25 or month 30 on your aviation journey, that’s normally when you’ll start working for an airline.”

The path to becoming a commercial pilot can be accelerated through intensive training programs, with graduates potentially securing employment with regional airlines like SkyWest, a major operator in the Southwest, within just months of completing their certifications. This career trajectory not only promises substantial earnings but also opportunities for career advancement and bonuses, underscoring the dynamic and lucrative nature of the field.

Martini, himself a seasoned pilot, emphasizes Stratus Financial’s commitment to the aviation community with their tagline, “By Pilots, For Pilots.” This ethos permeates their approach, ensuring that every loan application is processed with care and transparency, supported by in-house origination and servicing to maintain flexibility and reliability for both borrowers and investors.

Stratus Financial originates and services 100% of its loans in-house and is backed by investors, allowing it to offer borrowers flexible terms while keeping margins palatable for investment partners long-term. The vast majority of their borrowers are pilots with career aspirations, not hobbyists who want to learn to fly for fun.

The lending process starts with an application cobranded with the flight school. Students are directed to apply there and will get one of three outcomes: conditionally approved, needs a co-borrower, or denied. Once all documents are verified, those conditionally approved applicants are offered a few different loan programs.

“Our most popular product is a deferred product,” says Martini. “It’s one year of $25-a-month payments, one year of interest-only payments, and 13 years of full amortization. We are very transparent about how it will break down, whether they get variable or fixed, we give them all the options.”

With a team comprising several licensed pilots and aviation professionals, Stratus Financial continues to innovate in the lending space, driven by a vision to empower aspiring pilots and support the growth of flight schools nationwide.

“Our success is built on three pillars: borrower satisfaction, flight school partnerships, and investor security,” concludes Martini. “By fostering a balanced ecosystem, we ensure everyone benefits from our commitment to excellence.”

In conclusion, Stratus Financial stands at the forefront of democratizing access to aviation careers, bridging financial gaps and enabling dreams to take flight in the skies above.

Copyright © 2024 California Business Journal. All Rights Reserved.

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