Recently, we were honored to be selected as a host location for the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) General Aviation Advancing America meeting. The meeting was one in a series of events being held by NATA at various locations across the country to promote and advance the awareness of airports as runways for economic development, job recovery and emergency response.

With masks, hand sanitizer and safe social distancing protocol in place, the meeting was held in our hangar. Ryan Waguespack, NATA Senior Vice President, facilitated the town hall meeting held in an informal Q&A style to encourage dialogue between the industry and its stakeholders.

The small, but impressive group of about twenty attendees included representatives from education, business, and government who all had an interest in aviation in the region.

Schools and universities with aviation programs and courses were there, including Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Western Michigan University, and K-RESA (Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency). Members of the Kalamazoo Airport Board came, as well as individuals from corporate aviation departments in the area. We also welcomed the office of Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan’s sixth district. The discussion mostly focused on the future of aviation in the area, and also, the impact that general aviation has on the community in terms of business and jobs.

In August, American Airlines announced it would suspend flights out of KAZO from October 7 to November 3 of 2020. However, after a reported drop in air traffic at KAZO in the spring by the airport board,  RAI Jets has seen the pace slowly pick up. In many cases, companies are using general aviation more frequently.

Some of the company representatives at the meeting said their corporate jets, once reserved only for the highest tier employees, were now being used by employees that typically flew the commercial airlines. They felt it was a safer option for all their employees.

The pandemic has also brought people to jet charter who were not using it before, like companies who do not have an aviation department. As airlines continue to cancel and condense their flight schedule, these companies have appreciated the convenience of scheduling on-demand flights through jet charter and the peace of mind that they are flying aboard a COVID-19 safe flight. Likewise, RAI Jets is seeing more wealthy, first-time leisure travelers try jet charter. These people could always afford the service, but they were not compelled to use it until the pandemic.

We were also glad to be able to interact with educators about the job opportunities available in the industry. Our president, Becky Bakeman encourages students to think beyond the cockpit when it comes to careers in aviation.

“People think of pilots when they hear the word “aviation” but there are many opportunities in the industry, from technicians, to dispatch and scheduling, to flight crew,” she said.

Of course, the big question on everyone’s mind is will aviation ever rebound to its normal levels? The answer is anyone’s guess. But for now, with our safety measures in place,  general aviation with RAI Jets is a solid alternative to the commercial airlines.