By Britton Bloom
At an age when most people are settling into a quiet retirement, Andy Riggs is beginning over again with a new career as a pilot and flight instructor.
Riggs, 68, has had a lifelong passion for flying, but a busy career in the newspaper field kept getting in the way of his love for planes and flight. It was only after retirement that he got the chance to fulfill his dreams.
“All that hard work over the years finally paid off,” Riggs said.
Riggs is now the flight instructor for the Casa Grande branch of Double Eagle Aviation, a Tucson-based flight school whose branch office is giving the headquarters more than a run for the money.
Students like the small, intimate Casa Grande Municipal Airport, Riggs said. Inexperienced fliers can be very intimidated by large, impersonal airports like the Tucson International Airport—especially with all the F-16 jets flying in and out of the nearby military base.
Casa Grande provides a relaxed atmosphere for students, and Double Eagle has worked out an arrangement with the neighboring Franciscan Resort to house fledgling pilots during their training in the accelerated courses.
The busy schedule of students keeps him flying virtually every day, either in Casa Grande or in Tucson, if the main office needs an extra instructor.
“I’ve never had so much fun in my life,” Riggs said.
Riggs, born in Chicago in 1933, served in the Army Corps of Engineers until 1959 when he joined Goss International, a world leader in the design and manufacture of printing presses. In the mid-1970s, he came on board the “New York Times” and eventually became executive vice president of production.
Riggs retired in 1989. But retirement did not suit him, and he soon became involved in the struggle to revitalize the ailing “New York Daily News.” Riggs agreed to work for that paper for three years, negotiating labor contracts, but the job expanded and turned into a 10-year mission.
Riggs retired again in 2001; he and his wife Laura moved to their home in Oro Valley, just north of Tucson. But once again, retirement proved too quiet for Riggs.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Riggs said. “I told my wife, ‘I love you, but if I spend all day every day in the house, I’ll go crazy!’ Laura said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ I thought about it and decided I wanted to fly and teach others to fly.”
Riggs met Mike Garcia, founder of Double Eagle, and got his certification as a flight instructor so he could join the company.
Garcia founded Double Eagle Aviation after working his way up in the aviation industry from his beginning as an aircraft maintenance worker.
“Mike is the most knowledgeable person I know about aviation and planes,” Riggs said. “He really put the word ‘success’ in accelerated training.”
Double Eagle is nationally known for its accelerated program, which can provide the training to qualify a novice for his private pilot’s license within 18 days, or earn an instrument rating within 10 days, and a certified flight instructor rating in nine days.
Garcia opened the Casa Grande branch of Double Eagle because he saw it as a prime location for his school. Located between Phoenix and Tucson, the area is rapidly expanding but the Casa Grande Airport is still small enough to be comfortable for beginners.
“There are no jets coming in at all, so it’s ideal for training,” Riggs said. “There are no hot shot captains running the little guy out of the way with their jets.”
Riggs joined Double Eagle in the fall of 2001 and took over the Casa Grande location—just after the September 11 terrorist attacks rocked the aviation industry.
The FAA closed the airports in Phoenix and Tucson after the tragedies in New York and Washington, D.C., but student pilots still wanted to learn to fly and came to Casa Grande to take advantage of the airstrip that remained open.
“In that first financial quarter, we (at Casa Grande) generated more capital than the Tucson headquarters,” Riggs said.
Those new pilots have spread the word about Double Eagle; Riggs has students from across the country.
After a full career in the earth-bound corporate world, Riggs’ new vocation is nothing but fun.
“There is a life after chasing the almighty dollar,” Riggs said. “I finally discovered why I did it; it was so I could do this. The aviation industry is a wonderful industry. The people in aviation are wonderful, and I wasn’t aware of that before. I didn’t realize how dedicated they are, how safety conscious they are, and how honorable and good they are.”
For more information, contact Andy Riggs at (520) 836-9616 or visit the website at www.2-eagle.com.