Chris Sloan is known in some circles as an “AvGeek,” — a term for an aviation enthusiast that he does not mind at all.
He tries, for example, to be on the first flights for every new generation of aircraft, a quest he describes as “nerdier than a Star Trek convention.”
What started as a 5-year-old’s fascination with the universe of Miami International Airport has turned into a full-time job for Sloan, editor-in-chief and publisher of web publication Airways News and associate editor of the monthly Airways Magazine.
Airways News, which publishes online at AirwaysNews.com, got its start as the history-focused site Airchive.com in 2003, which Sloan founded as a kind of online aviation history museum. Over time, his coverage turned to more current happenings in the airline world, and last year Airchive formed a strategic alliance with Airways Magazine, which prints about 25,000 copies every month worldwide.
As part of the alliance, the site rebranded as AirwaysNews.com (although the historic Airchive content still exists as part of the new entity). Airways Magazine, which had headquarters in Idaho, was purchased by aviation reporter Enrique Perrella, now the publisher and editor-in-chief. The magazine was relocated to Miami.
Both publications are refining their focus: The print magazine has re-launched with a new look and more topical stories as well a long features; an app for smartphone and tablets rolls out in March. And the website has positioned itself as a go-to source for breaking news and analysis about the industry while also targeting enthusiasts and “high-yield” passengers.
“If it happens in the airline industry, it happens on Airways News,” Sloan said.
The Airways News job is one of a few for Sloan, who is also chief creative officer of 2C Creative, the company he owns with wife Carla Kaufman Sloan. That company, which specializes in television promos and branding as well as unscripted TV series for cable, made the Travel Channel showAirport 24/7: Miami, which still airs in reruns.
And since last spring, Sloan has also taken on an unexpected role, as an advocate for stronger safety legislation and education following the accidental electrocution of his 7-year-old son, Calder, in the family’s swimming pool.
“I have three full-time jobs,” Sloan said. Later, he added in an email: “The work we are all doing in his honor is the most important of all of our work — 2C and Airways included.”
During a break between meetings in New York last week, Sloan spoke to the Miami Herald about the publication, his lifelong interest in airlines and the greater aviation industry and some of the biggest stories in the industry now.
Q. Where and how did your own enthusiasm for aviation begin?
A. Since I was 5 years old, I’ve always had a fascination with it. My grandmother used to drop me off at the Miami International Airport and I’d run around… I was dazzled by it.
It’s the most dynamic industry, it really touches on every aspect of business. It’s extremely high-stakes and a detail business, so the more you know about commercial aviation, the more you learn that you need to know.
Q. What have some of your av-geekiest moments been?
A. I’ve been on the first flight of all the new-generation airplanes.…It’s really cool doing lasts: the last passenger flight ever of the DC-10, which was a stalwart airplane, and the last flight of AirTran ever…. The most enjoyable flight was the very first flight of the first American 777[-300ER] to Brazil. Of all the ones, that’s the one that was the most interesting moment.
Q. Let’s go back to 2003, when you founded Airchive.com. What was the site’s focus then?
A. It was really simple. I have a huge collection, since I was 5 years old. I have too many storage lockers of time tables and brochures, historic and valuable things. [I thought,] ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a museum?’ I took like nine months off work. I spent a lot of time on the web going to a lot of museums. There’s not like a great comprehensive aviation history museum….Why don’t I do it online? The first seven years of the website was really about a historical look back comprehensively through the industry in one place.
Q. Do you still collect that kind of stuff?
A. I do. It’s like airline hoarding. I’ve kind of switched from collecting physical assets and memorabilia. I’m about collecting experiences much more than I’m about collecting objects now.
The website and my interests have shifted from historical to present-day, future, zeitgeist current relevancy.
Q. Where does the publication — online and in print — go from here? What are the next steps for you?
A. We’re going to introduce the app in March, a beautiful app. They’ll still continue with the print publication. The print publication has been heavily redesigned [and]…will now be going digital as well.
At Airways News, we are at 200,000 plus unique visitors a month and well over 1.2 million page views, so we’re growing astronomically….One of the things that distinguishes us is we do a lot of live coverage. We’re live tweeting and live blogging the stories on the spot, and that’s become a hallmark of the brand. We’re going to evolve to a premium model where there’s some paid content, some free content, a lot more content sharing between the two.
Q. What are some of the hottest topics in the aviation world right now?
A. The hottest topic right now is you’ve got a business that historically has been a great industry and a terrible business. It’s not been great for shareholder value….The big story is how these airlines are creating sustainable businesses.
You can improve the travel experience for people sitting in the front of the plane, business and first [class]. But then in economy it’s all about debundling and charging fees, letting the passenger just pay for what they use.
The industry is in a period of not only growth but it’s also in a renaissance….It’s finally structured that it’s not only going to make make 3 percent margins.
There’s a big gulf. There’s either the big network carriers, the survivors — the industry is consolidated to four major players: American, United, Delta, Southwest. And then there’s the ultra low-cost carriers like Spirit that are the true disruptors. And then there’s everyone else in between.
Q. What are the biggest stories in South Florida aviation circles right now?
A. American [Airlines], after the merger with US Airways…they’re not just going to be the biggest, they want to be the best, and they are being watched by the entire industry….That’s a huge positive story for South Florida.
And Spirit Airlines is another one, because they’ve created a business model where one didn’t exist. They’re not necessarily cannibalizing American, they’re doing their own thing….They’re changing the industry. We’ve got both going on here.
Q. What do you expect to be the next big milestone at Miami International Airport? What do you think it needs to be?
A. I think a low-cost airline like Spirit needs to go in there…I believe in the next few years that we’ll have a direct nonstop to Asia and to Israel. The Miami airport’s becoming a preferred hub, and I think that’s a huge deal.
Q. What’s your favorite airport restaurant?
A. I love barbecue….I’ve actually taken a day trip to Memphis to eat three different types of barbecue in the airport.
Q. What’s your favorite spot for plane watching in South Florida?
A. The Miami airport is actually one of the very few airports in the country that’s plane-spotter-friendly. They get a huge amount of attention for being progressive this way…. Plane spotters come from all over the world to sit in Miami, people take plane-spotting trips. The camping spot where they like to go, right next to the El Dorado Furniture, is on Perimeter Road next to Milam Dairy [Road]. They make it very friendly. Miami is a plane-spotter and aviation haven; it’s world-renowned. People come to Florida and they sit there all day long and that’s what they do. They don’t go to the beach.