On the Record with Renee Riani

DeKALB – Renee Riani has always loved connecting with the community and teaching others about aviation.

Riani is the airport manager of the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport.

For 11 years, she has been involved with the aviation program offered at the airport through Kishwaukee Education Consortium. In April 2020, she was hired to replace long-time manager Tom Cleveland, who took a job as director of operations and facilities at DuPage Airport.

On Friday, May 14, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce will host its Local Showcase & Spring Fest, presented by Facebook, at the airport, 2200 Pleasant St. in DeKalb. Face masks will be required for the event.

The free drive-thru Local Showcase from 4 to 6:30 p.m. will feature more than 50 local businesses and organizations distributing information and giveaways and the Lions Club’s Cruise By Car Show, featuring cars, motorcycles and airplanes.

Spring Fest will immediately follow the Local Showcase and will be a walkable, outdoor festival that is free to attend. Food will be available to purchase from Big D’s Hotdogs and Burritoville from 5 to 9 p.m. Live music will start at 6:30 p.m., with drinks available for purchase. Mr. Myers Band will be the main act. Seating will not be provided, feel free to bring a chair.

For more information about the event, call the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce at 815-756-6306.

Riani spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about her position with the airport and the upcoming Local Showcase & Spring Fest.

Milton: How have you been involved with the airport before becoming its manager?

Riani: I have been involved with the DeKalb airport for 11 years with the aviation program offered through Kishwaukee Education Consortium. I teach Aviation 1, which includes the basics of aviation, including hydraulics, instrumentation, navigation and communication skills. We invite professionals from the industry to come in and speak to the students: including pilots of all kinds, from commercial planes, jets and helicopters. This year with the pandemic, we were able to Google Meet them in, which actually was a very positive experience. Distance or timing would have been an issue to allow them to physically be in the classroom. We could bring people in we wouldn’t have before.

Milton: How does aviation teach more than flight?

Riani: We work on crew coordination as part of the curriculum and the human factors of what we’re doing. The students end up with real life skills, not just aviation skills, because everything is transferable. … Not every student comes out of the class and goes into aviation, but this year, there are nine students going into flying.

Milton: Why is it important to have students studying aviation?

Riani: There is a flight attendant, pilot, air traffic control and mechanic shortage. The timing is great for young people just getting started. They will be ready to fill the gap to be able to be viable candidates for positions that need to be filled due to the pandemic and retiring. I’m happy so many of our students are flying. Several of them have gotten scholarships to help fund that.

Milton: Are you a pilot?

Riani: Yes. In college, I received a full scholarship and I went to [Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis] and chose to do computer science. I decided by my second semester that it just was not for me. It was not a good fit. In the meantime, I had a chance to fly on a small airplane and on a commercial airliner, and I really enjoyed it. I transferred to Purdue’s main campus at Lafayette. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in aviation technology.

Milton: How did you get into the aviation field?

Riani: After I graduated, I had been working for American Eagle full-time, then I transferred to O’Hare and later, I landed a flight instructing job at DuPage Airport. But at that time, there was a down time happening in the aviation industry. I got married and started a family, and I ended up working with the marketing director at the airport in DuPage as the assistant marketing director for the airport authority.

Milton: How did you come to DeKalb?

Riani: I’m good friends with [previous DeKalb airport manager] Tom Cleveland, we were co-workers back in the day. We kept in contact and our kids grew up together. Bruce Griffith, with the Kishwaukee Education Consortium, reached out to Tom that he needed a new instructor in 2010. I met with Bruce and I got connected to the DeKalb Airport.

Milton: How did you come to be the airport’s manager?

Riani: This will be my 11th year teaching for the Kishwaukee Education Consortium, every Thursday night during the school year. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, held part-time jobs and had different management experiences along the way. When I found out that Tom was leaving the position, it was actually Bruce that put the bug in my ear and told me I could do that, that I should apply. For every question you don’t ask, the answer is always no. So I threw my hat into the ring, and they said yes. I started April 20, 2020, just as the pandemic was beginning.

Milton: How did the pandemic affect the airport?

Riani: At first, it made things a little difficult because people were not able to have in-person contact. That created a delay with some paperwork and payments. We also had a reduction in air traffic in March and April because of the restrictions. However, we did see an increase of people flying privately, where you don’t have TSA or airline restrictions. It’s almost like driving your own car. Flight training has been booming through the pandemic. And now that restrictions have been lifted, flying has been going like gangbusters and business is starting to boom again.

Milton: Tell me more about Local Showcase & Spring Fest.

Riani: We’re hosting the event at the airport, allowing safe social distancing for everyone who wants to come and connect with local organizations and businesses through the chamber. There were some traffic issues at other event locations, so the chamber decided to host a drive-thru event that uses the airport property.

Milton: What makes the event unique?

Riani: They can drive on a taxiway parallel to the runway, along a section of our main tarmac. The Lions Club has arranged for a drive-thru car show. Everything will be a very slow pace. As people attend the event, they can be handed a brochure or items. Some of the airport tenants will have their own aircraft on display and the airport’s fire truck will be parked and on display. The entrance will be at Peace Road and Pleasant Street, and cars will exit from the main airport terminal on Pleasant Street. Later, there will be food trucks and live music. People can bring their own chairs, sit and enjoy the music. The main parking lot will be available or they can park along Pleasant Street as an overflow.

Milton: What do you like most about the event?

Riani: The event will give everyone a different view of the airport instead of a parking lot. They’ll actually be driving on the taxiway. It’s a nice way to get outside in a nice setting in the community. It’s also the front end of car show season and there’s a lot of excitement about that. There’s a lot of space outdoors for the food trucks and live music, so people can spread out. It will be a welcoming event. People can come out, drive through and connect with organizations and businesses in the community, enjoying some things they normally wouldn’t get to see or do. It’s a great kickoff to spring.

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.