Since his first flight on a private plane, Naperville resident Matt Zahora has had lofty career goals.
“I took my first flight when I was 12,” said the 2004 graduate of Neuqua Valley High School and founder of Chicagoland Aviation. “I always knew that was what I wanted to be a pilot, but after that flight, I knew I wanted to do it as a career.”
Zahora got his start in aviation while still a teenager, cleaning airplanes and moving them around for a small charter company. He began taking lessons at Bolingbrook’s Clow International Airport while in high school, and learned to fly even before he had his driver’s license.
“I was known throughout high school as the guy who was interested in flying,” said the 29-year-old. “I didn’t grow up in an aviation family, but was lucky enough to have a family friend who was in the business, and I kind of jumped in with both feet.”
By his senior year in high school, he was working an eight-hour day at DuPage Airport in West Chicago.
“I had early dismissal, so after noon, I would go to the airport, work until 9 p.m., and then do my homework,” Zahora said. “The next day, I would do it all over again.”
After graduating from Neuqua Valley in 2004, Zahora headed to Southern Illinois University Carbondale where he attended classes during the week and flew as a pilot on the weekends. Even with his busy schedule, he graduated with a degree in aviation management in 2008.
He landed job working full-time as a pilot, but realized he wanted more.
“Flying for the airlines, there was a repetitiveness of the job I didn’t enjoy,” Zahora said. “I needed to get back into flying for something I enjoy; starting this company was more of a way to offset my passion.”
In 2010, Zahora founded Chicagoland Aviation as a flight school. Since then, the private aviation company based at the Chicago/Romeoville Airport has grown to include not only flight training and certifications, but aircraft rentals, sales, and aircraft management, along with charter flights for business and pleasure.
“Chicagoland Aviation is not just a place to go for an airplane ride,” Zahora said. “Customers come in for our discovery flights, but the goal is to help them recognize how private aviation can enhance their lives.”
That was the case for business owner Tom Chakos of Golf Construction. The 56-year-old resident of Homer Glen said he initially came to Zahora because he wanted to learn to fly, but after getting his certifications, he purchased his own plane which Chicagoland Aviation has managed for him for the past three years.
“Charter flight has enabled me to get places in almost a moment’s notice,” Chakos said. “When I have to be somewhere, I don’t have to figure out a flight schedule or how I will drive there. I just get in the plane and go.”
Zahora said Chakos’ case is not unusual, as many of his customers have realized that private aviation is a convenient and time-efficient alternative to commercial airline travel.
“As businesses grow, private transportation is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity to get more done in a shorter period of time,” Zahora said.
But whether it’s teaching someone to fly or getting someone to work, Zahora has turned his passion into a career he loves.
“For me I like the challenge of it; no flight is ever the same,” Zahora said. “I enjoy seeing people come in, flying them somewhere and having them see how much time they saved. That’s the side I enjoy is seeing people benefit from Chicago Aviation.”