Francis Aviation President killed in plane crash at Las Cruces airport Monday

Published: Nov. 25, 2014 at 11:39 AM CST
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Tyler Francis, president of Francis Aviation, was killed in a plane crash at Las Cruces International Airport Monday, according to New Mexico State Police.

Francis, 29, was the sole occupant of the single-engine plane that crashed at around noon about 150 feet from the terminal on the tarmac.

The airport has been closed since the crashed.

New Mexico State Police Lt. James Frietze said he spoke to Francis Monday morning and that he was told the plane was a recent purchase.

"Witnesses said the airplane sounded odd and started sputtering. The engine seemed to kick on and then shut off," Frietze told ABC-7. "One of the witnesses did tell me though that (the plane) was at approximately at a 90 degree angle to the ground upon impact."

Frietze said Francis had massive head injuries.

Earlier this year, four people were killed in an air ambulance crash west of Las Cruces on Aug. 27. They died from a combination of burns, smoke inhalation and blunt force trauma, according to autopsy reports.

Story will be updated as more details become available.

Tyler Francis, president of Francis Aviation, was killed in a plane crash at Las Cruces International Airport Monday, according to an employee of Francis' father, Rick Francis.

Tyler Francis, 29, was the sole occupant of the single-engine plane that crashed at around noon about 150 feet from the terminal on the tarmac.

The airport has been closed since the crashed.

Francis is the son of Rick Francis, WestStar Bank's executive chairman, and grandson of former El Paso Mayor Larry Francis.

Earlier this year, four people were killed in an air ambulance crash west of Las Cruces on Aug. 27. They died from a combination of burns, smoke inhalation and blunt force trauma, according to autopsy reports.

Story will be updated as more details become available.

Below is an April 2013 El Paso Inc. article on Tyler Francis and Francis Aviation

Tyler Francis and his company, Francis Aviation, have taken over at Santa Teresa Airport where they'll be supplying aviation and jet fuel to customers.

But in the not too distant future, he expects to be pumping rocket fuel to a very different kind of customer as the first fixed-base operator at Spaceport America north of Las Cruces, N.M.

Francis, 28, the son of Rick Francis, WestStar Bank's executive chairman, and grandson of former El Paso Mayor Larry Francis, isn't exactly taking the path they expected he would after completing his MBA at Texas Tech University.

But his dreams lie in the wild blue yonder, not behind a desk.

"Between undergrad and grad school, I was working for Hunt Companies in a cubicle for 70 to 80 hours a week and decided I didn't want to do that," Francis said. "Aviation was my passion."

After graduating from UTEP, he realized he liked life in the sky when he bought an airplane with money he had earned flipping houses, something he started in high school, and began flying back and forth to Texas Tech in Lubbock.

"My father had big plans for me coming back to El Paso and taking over the family's real estate portfolio," he said. "But, that didn't float my boat."

Instead, he went to work - volunteered, really - for former El Paso Mayor Susie Azar at Blue Feather Aero, the fixed-base operator at the Doña Ana County Airport.

"I told Susie, 'I'll work for you for free until you're ready to sell it to me,' " Francis said. "I worked there for a year."

They closed the deal in December.

Azar, a sky lover as well, still has a desk at what is now known as Francis Aviation and popped into the office last week during El Paso Inc's visit.

"I have big withdrawals, can't quit coming here," she said. "So, he's kept me on and, I guess you could say, I work for him now. I have several students I'm still doing flying instruction with.

"It's pretty irresistible. I feel better when I'm going flying."

Over the years, she joked that Blue Feather Aero never really made money, except as a tax write-off.

But not making money isn't in Francis' genes.

"That's been the push here for the last four months, getting the business turned around from a tax write-off into an actual business," he said. "There are those in this business who don't make a dime and those who make a lot of money.

"I see it as a platform for my life, building a base and net worth as a start to branch into other investments."

Starting a charter flight service at Santa Teresa Airport is also in the plans, as is construction by Doña Ana County of a new customs facility that will officially restore "international" to the airport's name.

He describes his fixed-base operation as a "glorified gas station."

"We fuel general aviation aircraft, anything from jets to helicopters and airplanes," he said. "We do aircraft maintenance, management of aircraft and provide hangar space.

"We're sort of the general aviation hub for El Paso. So if you're looking for fixed-wing, helicopter or sky-diving lessons, or aerial tours, we're the place."

He said skydiving is a hobby of his, and he's just getting into base-jumping from natural or manmade platforms.

In honor of Susie Azar and her late husband, Dick, he said, the flight school will keep the name Blue Feather Aero.

Francis wouldn't say how much he paid Azar. But, he said, the book value of the leases, fueling trucks, airplane tugs, support vehicles and other inventory, is more than $2 million, not including the eight planes he bought from her.

A restaurant is under construction and there's a new large patio that he hopes will attract people who want to hang out.

There's also a new, single-screen movie theater to keep waiting pilots and family members entertained.

"We're setting this up so you can come out here with the family and have a good time watching airplanes take off and land and watch skydivers," he said.

More than 150 aircraft are hangared at the airport, including 20 jets and a number of helicopters.

While working for Azar, Francis said, he responded to a request for bids put out by the state of New Mexico to become the exclusive fixed-base operator and runway manager for the Spaceport America facility. He won the subcontract.

"I am so excited," he said. "I worked very hard to win the bid. The impact is going to be huge from a business perspective. Looking to the future, it's just spectacular.

"Once Virgin Galactic starts operation, we will be fueling the White Knight with jet fuel."

The White Knight Two is the mothership and launch platform for SpaceShip Two, the rocket designed to take space tourists or civilian astronauts, as they are called, for a short, $250,000 ride into space and back to the spaceport.

"Based on their projections of phasing in to full operations over the next few years, we'll be flying from here to there with our staff to do the runway preps, all the aircraft preps and to get everything set up so when they do begin operation, everything's ready to go," Francis said.

"Once there are full-scale operations going on, we'll be looking at two launches a week minimum to take people into space," he said.

Just when those operations are to begin is, well, up in the air.

"The only announcement has been they won't begin operations until they believe it is truly safe for everyone," he said.

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