A Family Legacy of Aviation Excellence
It all started with a double passion for aviation.
Twin brothers Ronnie and Donnie began taking flying lessons at the local Kirsch Municipal Airport (KIRS) in Sturgis, Michigan more than 30 years ago. Ronnie’s children Brian, David and Becky watched as their father’s love of aviation and his new hobby grew, supported by the day job…Riley Construction Company.
All the kids learned to helped out in the business, even helping pour cement for sidewalks and driveways after school. But when the retiring airport manager presented the brothers with the opportunity to take over KIRS, the brothers won the bid and quickly traded in their dump truck and backhoe for general aviation. They founded Riley Aviation in 1982, opening up their office with two twin desks that faced each other.
Riley Aviation Inc: The Dream Come True
The company was originally the airport manager for the City of Sturgis and a flight school.
All the kids as well as their mom, Kay, worked in the business. The kids took care of the planes, manned the office and ran the rental car desk. Kay handled administration and accounting.
As for aviation, Brian, David, and Becky all learned to fly. The boys each earned their pilot’s license at age 16. Brian, however, was the biggest enthusiast in the family. He was the kind of kid with a bedroom full of model planes who could identify any airplane by its picture.
After graduation, he joined the U.S. Army, went straight to helicopter flight school and flew a UH1 (Huey) helicopter out of Fort Hood, Texas. For Brian it was the culmination of a childhood dream that started when Ronnie, a former Army helicopter crew chief, first introduced him to helicopter flight.
Meanwhile, David attended Western Michigan for aviation while managing KIRS. Becky eventually headed to school, graduating from the University of Mississippi with a degree in business management. After six years in the Army, Brian returned to help with the family business.
Sadly, Ronald Riley died in 1990, shortly after Brian’s return. His death ushered in a new era for the business and one that Brian, David, and Becky were ready to face.
Then the family suffered the loss of its second patriarch, Donnie, who died in 2005 and the company passed 100% into the hands of Brian, David and Becky. It was also about that time that the economy began to take an ominous toll on the aviation company.
RAI Jets: A New Brand for a New Era
With the downturn in the economy, fewer people were learning to fly or book charter flights. The market was changing, and the trio knew they would have to make big changes if Riley Aviation was to survive.
Together, they envisioned a new company which would focus on three things: aircraft management, maintenance, and charter service. As a Part 135 Operator, the company could give people a faster, more luxurious option for travel and also help owners maintain and manage their jets. When not in use, jet owners would even be able to offset their operating costs by chartering their aircraft through RAI’s jet management service on their Air Carrier Certificate.
The new company was called RAI Jets and officially opened its doors in 2009.
With the “Life of Riley” Jet Card program to boost air charter sales and the development of a turnkey aircraft management program, RAI Jets was off and running.
Today the company retains its original location at KIRS, where it all started. But in 2016, RAI Jets welcomed its new location at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport. Both offices offer hangar space and charter flight with maintenance and overall operations as well as the RAI fleet of aircraft managed from the KAZO location.
All three of the original owners are still active in the company, as well as their mother, Kay and Brian’s daughter, Christina, who once had a crib in her father’s office. The twin desks of the founders still remain at KIRS and are still used by those they loved. Meanwhile, RAI Jets is powered by a family with strong tradition, passion for aviation and dedication to treating each customer like a member of their own family.