MONTGOMERY – An award-winning local flight school operator has big plans for a small regional airport.
Nine years after its founding, Take Flight Aviation is celebrating recently winning the “Best Flight School in the Nation” award from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a popular aviation trade group.
And the general aviation flight school’s owner, Ryan Mayo, is looking to expand operations at the Orange County Airport in the Town of Montgomery. Mayo wants to mint more pilots to help ease America’s shortage.
This year, the flight school is on pace to help students obtain 60 to 65 certifications or ratings – a 50 percent increase from last year. The goal: 200 ratings by 2024.
That tally would make Take Flight one of the region’s largest flight schools.
All told, Mayo and his staff of 16 oversee 190 active students, who are working toward multi-instrument, commercial, and multi-engine ratings.
Last year, eight of the 40 students who obtained ratings reached certified flight instructor status, setting them up to become commercial pilots.
The school also trains high school students to fly via Orange-Ulster BOCES, and Take Flight is applying to be certified to accept federal educational loans.
“It’s pretty rewarding to see someone go from just having this idea to do so something to having a career,” Mayo said. “We’re helping people build a living and launching careers.”
Mayo, who also serves as vice president of the family business, the mechanical pipe installation business CM Mechanical of Chester, first fell in love with flying 12 years ago.
His original flight school goal, beginning with one instructor, $5,000 and a 1969 Piper Cherokee 140, was to run a side business to help fund private flights for CM Mechanical to bid on construction jobs.
But Mayo quickly pivoted to making the flight school his primary business when he realized how badly America needs pilots.
More than 42 percent of major airline pilots will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 in the next 10 years, according to Cowen & Co., an investment banking company.
Exacerbating matters, Boeing estimates that North American airlines are going to need 117,000 new pilots in the next 20 years.
“The pilots at JFK (Airport) don’t start out at JFK. They start at Orange County Airport,” said Ed Magryta, director of Orange County Airport, which is county-owned.
“If you want an instant $50,000-a-year-job right out the gate, get your pilot’s license and commercial certificate, and they’ll hire you.”
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said Take Flight is a “respected company, and it’s contributed greatly to the success of the Orange County Airport” by helping generate enough user fees to make the airport self-sufficient.
Over the next 18 months, the county plans to spend $2.5 million to add one or two commercial hangars, while opening up the airport – already home to 170 planes – for businesses like charter flight companies to build hangars.
That’s on top of $33 million in recent runway improvements.
Flight school student Ciaran O’Gorman, 18, of Cornwall-on-Hudson, said Take Flight is helping the airport succeed because of its strong customer service, including working around students’ schedules and setting timelines for graduation.
“It’s an absolutely great business and an interesting career,” O’Gorman said. “Working hands-on with planes is a lot more fun than what I was doing, which was lifeguarding.”