Crystal Air President Taylor Newman says he has seen the number of people seeking to learn how to fly soar over the past year or so amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's more than I've ever seen," said Newman, 48, adding that some people have told him they'll never again fly on commercial airlines.
Crystal Air has opened a new flight school at Collegedale Municipal Airport. It also operates another such school, among other aviation services, at Chattanooga Airport.
Newman, who has been involved in the aviation business since graduating from Middle Tennessee State University in the mid-1990s, put the increase in people wanting to learning how to fly at 200% above the typical number in the past.
The climb started last year after the coronavirus lock down when many people continued to work from home rather than go into their offices, he said.
"They've got time," Newman said, noting people often could take off during the week for a lesson rather than waiting for a weekend.
Also, commercial airlines cut flights for passengers last year and that reduction helped factor into the increase, he said.
Chris Swain, the Collegedale Airport's director of operations, said Crystal Air is a second flight school at that facility, which caters to recreational fliers.
While the number of commercial airline passengers nationally and in Chattanooga plunged last year during the pandemic, traffic in Collegedale stayed steady, he said.
"The commercial side of things like airlines saw a huge decline," Swain said. "We just continued."
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He said the airport may have had "a slight pickup" in some recreational flying.
Newman said a student flying three to four times a week could earn a license in about four months. Some, however, may take a year to learn, he said.
"People do it at their own pace," the company president said. "It's about proficiency."
Crystal Air utilizes Cessna 172 single-engine planes with four seats, he said, adding the aircraft have modern avionics utilizing almost all digital services.
The cost to obtain a license ranges from about $11,000 to $12,000, Newman said.
Students' reasons for wanting to learn range from business to pleasure, he said, adding that it's "a lifelong dream" for some.
Crystal Air also offers charters, many of which are used on day trips within the region, Newman said. For example, he said, a businessman may be able to fly into an airport and back home in the same day and save on a hotel room or driving through Atlanta traffic.
The company has 11 aircraft, with the largest a 10-seat plane. In addition to flight instruction and education courses such as on mountain flying, it does aircraft maintenance.
Newman said he learned to fly at 18. His grandparents had lived near Chattanooga airport and they would visit an observation deck the former passenger terminal offered to watch planes land and take off, he said.
"I wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut," Newman said.
Earlier this year, another small airport, Dallas Bay Skypark in Hixson, closed to the general public after its public license expired, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation
That airport, which catered to small planes, ceased commercial operations such as selling fuel and permitting the general public to land and take off.
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