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Alan, a resident of Sun City, died March 13 following a brief battle with lymphoma. He was 86.
Born in the small town of Clarkson, Nebraska, he drove a tractor from age 13 to help on the family farm. He exhibited an early fascination for all things mechanical, especially airplanes, and took his solo flight at age 16. After a stint in the U.S. Army, where he was stationed in Germany in the late 1950s, he obtained his marketing degree from San Diego State University and worked briefly at American International Pictures before pursuing his lifelong love of flight as a career.
Starting as a late-night mail-run pilot based at Thermal Airport in Thermal, Calif., Svoboda went on to fly a 19-passenger Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner at Sun Aire Lines, later piloting a 30-passenger Embraer Brasilia. He not only would become the commuter airline’s chief pilot but also its director of operations. When Sun Aire was purchased by Skywest Airlines in 1984 he stayed on as its head pilot, but left behind the four walls of his office as flight was his true calling.
During this time, Svoboda also conducted flight checks and instrument ratings for area aviators. Known as “Big Al” throughout Southern California, he had a stellar reputation as being professional, precise and unrelenting in his pursuit of perfection and safety — not only for himself, but for every pilot with whom he ever flew.
After retiring from Skywest at age 55, he enjoyed flying recreationally and also continued in his flight inspections of other aviators. He especially enjoyed flying his grandson back and forth from Arizona to California. (Not all grandsons get a personal pilot.)
During retirement, he also was building an experimental glider aircraft from the ground up — but ended up selling the craft because constructing the wings was a two-man undertaking and he could not find someone who met his qualifications to help him finish the job.
As a veteran with a great love for his country, Svoboda also invested considerable time and energy in his local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters — first tending bar (and returning any tips he received to the till) at the Joshua Tree, Calif., facility, and later volunteering his time at the Prescott Valley branch after he and his wife, Fay, moved to Arizona in 2009 to be closer to family.
“Big Al” is survived by his wife, Rita Fay Svoboda of Sun City; a daughter and son-in-law, Kim and Deane Antoniou of Glendale; his grandson, Austin Antoniou, of Columbus, Ohio; his sister, Joan Sprague, of Kaneohe, Hawaii; and his nephew, Keith McFall (wife Gail) and their son, Alan Toshio McFall, also of Kaneohe.
Cremation will be followed by interment at National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. A memorial for friends and family will occur at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in his name to either Vietnam Veterans of America (vva.org) or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (donate.lls.org).