On the Record with Renee Riani, DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport manager

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 longtime manager Tom Cleveland, who took a job as director of operations and facilities at DuPage Airport.

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.

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.