“For me, it all started at South Miami High School.”
When Rick Garcia became involved in the George T. Baker Aviation School, the first half of each day was spent attending his regular classes at South Miami. Then, he spent the second half of each day at the airport aviation school. “That really sparked my interest in aviation,” he recalls.
“The only challenge I had was in the airframe and powerplant [A&P] program,” Garcia adds. “I didn’t finish the course because I didn’t like getting my hands dirty.”
On a school field trip, he was lured by the U.S. Air Force. After graduating from high school, Garcia enlisted. For several years, he served as an avionics tech, working on F-4 and F-16 aircraft.
Even as an Air Force-trained avionics technician, a young and determined Garcia saw the opportunity to provide avionics installations and products to the aviation industry. Then, as now, he clearly understood the value that customers demand.
After his stint with the military, Garcia landed his first civilian job as an avionics installer for AeroTech, a small avionics company in Tampa, FL. Only a few years later, he says he realized “I could do this on my own.”
In 1984, with a $10,000 loan from his father, 24-year-old Garcia’s vision became a reality.
“I began working out of my house,” he recalls. “My dad told me, ‘You can borrow this money from me, but if you run out, that’s it. There’s no more.’ So I didn’t have a choice: I had to make it work.”
Within six months, Garcia paid his dad back in full. Soon after, he transitioned his rapidly growing business to a small office; then into a building; then to a repair station.
“We started at Tampa International Airport as Gulf Coast Avionics [GCA], but when the county bought our building, we moved to Lakeland, Florida, and built our new building at Lakeland Linder International Airport,” he explains.
Garcia soon felt the need to expand his operation to the west coast. In 1991, he founded Pacific Coast Avionics, which is located near Aurora State Airport in Aurora, OR.
Because he recognized the important role his own high school aviation program played in his life, Garcia founded Central Florida Aerospace Academy in 2007. “We started the school with 45 kids the first year,” he remembers.
Located on the Sun n’ Fun / Florida Air Museum Campus at Lakeland Linder International Airport, the school now boasts more than 350 students — and it continues to expand.
Today, more than 36 years later, Gulf Coast Avionics is headquartered in a vast 29,000-square-foot facility at Lakeland. From kit aircraft to warbirds, piston aircraft, corporate jets, helicopters, and business jets, Gulf Coast Avionics serves both the fixed-wing and rotary markets.
The company successfully provides avionics, installation and repair solutions from coast to coast. Its long-term experience has allowed Gulf Coast Avionics to stay on the leading edge of industry and technology changes. By way of example, GCA is the first and longest-standing Gamin Aviation Dealer in the world.
Speaking of the world, under Garcia’s visionary leadership, GCA has grown — and continues to grow — internationally. There are now 19 Gulf Coast Avionics locations around the world.
“We’re passionate about what we do,” Garcia muses. “First and foremost, we’re aviation enthusiasts who look forward to working with our customers. We will do everything in our power to serve our customers in the best possible way.”
And for nearly four decades, Rick Garcia and his accomplished team have been doing just that.