The Showalter family has deep roots in Orlando’s aviation community, going all the way back to 1945 and the end of WWII. It was at that time, a time of great optimism in America, that Howard Showalter, his brother J. Sandy Showalter, and their partner Ford “Buck” Rogers migrated to Central Florida after serving in the war effort. The three men followed their entrepreneurial spirits and purchased 100 acres of land in Winter Park, carving out grass runways and opening Showalter Airpark. The Airpark was meant to be a mecca for the burgeoning masses of private pilots in America (remember that optimism!), offering a country club atmosphere that would make flying attractive to everyone. The G.I. Bill did indeed mean a period of explosive growth in flight training, which soon became a main line of business at Showalter. A Piper Aircraft distributorship followed, thus beginning the Showalter’s long involvement in the aircraft sales business.
Throughout the late 1940’s the training and sales business boomed and soon Showalter had three locations: the Airpark, today’s Orlando-Sanford International (SFB), and today’s Orlando Executive (ORL). In 1951 the partners bid on the FBO concession at ORL and won, which grew their footprint at that location. By the mid-50’s the growth in corporate aviation foresaw the need for better infrastructure and a focus on locations best suited geographically to take advantage of that growth. Putting it all together the partners made the decision to close the Airpark, as the grass runways were ill-suited for the larger aircraft being used, and consolidate to ORL as the immediate area was experiencing rapid growth.
At the time ORL was known as Orlando Municipal Airport and experienced a very poor reputation due to the city run facility’s poor service, which was reflected in the fact that only three aircraft were based there. Showalter set about remedying that, and little did the three partners know that the changes they made at that time laid the groundwork for 64 years of excellence as the primary operator at ORL!
As with any company that survives so long there were many changes, many ups and downs. In 1965 Howard Showalter was lost tragically, an event that challenged the survival of the company but also set in motion a way forward for the future. Howard’s son Robert (Bob) Showalter was at the time starting school at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He went on to earn an MBA and after a few years in the insurance business accepted Sandy Showalter’s offer to buy out his share of the company and join as Buck Rogers’s partner. That year was 1973 and Bob and Buck soon became a great pair, Buck having nearly 30 years’ experience and Bob displaying his business acumen, dedication, and natural salesmanship. The company thrived as the sales business exploded in the 1970’s and the FBO business, along with its reputation for outstanding service, continued to grow as more and more corporations discovered the efficiencies of Business Aviation.
Bob eventually bought Buck out and continued to lead the company through a long period of great challenges, great successes, and great changes. By the early 1990’s Bob’s wife Kim began to become more involved in the business. Their children, Jenny and Sandy, were growing up and that allowed Kim more time, which she used to learn every facet of the business. She pumped gas, answered phones, and learned the accounting. In 1994 she became President, ably guiding the company for its final 20 years and gaining a reputation as one of the finest FBO managers extant. Eventually the kids, daughter Jenny and son Sandy joined the business as well after school and outside careers.
The late 1990’s and the 2000’s were the heyday of the Showalter FBO. From hosting more National Business Aviation Association conventions than any other FBO (eight), to perennial appearances at the top of the industry polls for FBO excellence, Showalter’s name became much bigger than the little family run shop actually was. Bob was the Chairman and the “Big Cheese” as he came to be known, always active in the industry and always a respected and knowledgeable voice within the company. Kim was the tireless and fearless leader. Jenny gained a reputation as one of the finest Customer Service Representatives in the nation. Sandy became the Marketing department and the FBO’s market share grew markedly, while at the same time he learned how to sell airplanes from his dad. During this time Showalter also enjoyed perhaps the apogee of something that blessed them from the very beginning so long ago: great people. Over the years countless amazing people called Showalter their place of employ, from future Air Force One Commanders to world famous airshow performers to corporate CEO’s. It was all of them who made Showalter Flying Service what it was.
In early 2015 the Showalter family, after years of deliberation, sold the FBO to major industry player Atlantic Aviation.