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Wings Flight Training to land in Perham

More about Richard McCrady: His interest in aviation began fairly early in life. He worked for Northwest Airlines for 15 years, starting as a reservation agent and working his way up into the high ranks of the company. He left Northwest to start his own transportation logistics business - an effort that started out of the back of a station wagon and grew into a multi-million dollar company. In 2000, McCrady merged his organization with the well-known international freight company, Consolidated Freig...

A new flight school is preparing for take-off in Perham.

Long-time aviator and business executive, Richard McCrady, is currently remodeling the municipal airport's arrival/departure building to be more user-friendly to pilots and future flight school students.

His company, Lakes Aviation LLC., plans to start formally advertising the school, called Wings Flight Training, after the start of the new year. The school's instructors will provide training in private, commercial and instrument flying.

In the midst of his remodeling efforts last Friday, McCrady took a break from laying tile to explain what Wings Flight Training will offer, and why it should be a good thing for Perham.

"I started flying in 1965," he said. "I have an incredible interest in aviation. I have a passion for the industry... I'm doing this because I'm retired and I love to fly. I'm doing this for fun."

Not looking to make a personal profit from the venture, McCrady believes the school will provide a service to would-be pilots who otherwise couldn't afford the training. He also believes it could further economic growth in the community.

"When you get more students here, you get more potential traffic out here, and opportunities for expansion of other types of businesses," he said, adding that airports in other smaller cities in Minnesota, such as Bemidji and Brainerd, are "ringed" with other businesses that benefit - and benefit from - the airports.

"It can bring other revenue streams into the city," he said of a well-trafficked airport. "I've seen communities grow progressively by taking advantage of what their small airports can provide. That's not my reason for doing it [starting the flight school], but that could be some of the byproduct of it."

According to McCrady, there will be a great demand for new commercial pilots in the next two decades, and not enough young people are pursuing aviation as a career path.

"People like me, who are retiring, are seeing fewer people getting into aviation," he said. "There's a mystique behind aviation. People think it's too expensive... Students are guaranteed jobs after they graduate, but from a marketing perspective, we [aviation programs] haven't done enough. So here's a vocation that is sitting there, ripe for young people to look at."

While other pilot licensure programs already exist in Minnesota, McCrady said Wings Flight Training will offer something the others don't - accredited, well organized training at an affordable price. Because he's more interested in attracting potential students than turning a large profit, McCrady is offering training at a fraction of the usual cost.

"We're trying to make getting into flying an affordable venture," he said. "I would guess, if it were affordable, there are probably a number of young men and women who would be interested in trying something different."

Once he starts advertising, McCrady also plans to start visiting area schools to give presentations. He'll market locally and throughout the region, and will offer free airplane rides to those interested. That should all start happening by spring.

Between now and then, he said, "I'm taking it one moment at a time."

In addition to laying tile at the airport building, McCrady's been putting new fixtures in the bathroom and has hired someone to repaint the walls. He's also planning to install a flight planning board with maps, a flat screen TV and a microwave and coffee maker. He's already purchased some plush furniture and board room-style table and chairs.

"The purpose of doing this," he said, isn't just for the future benefit of flight school students, but also, "to be friendlier to pilots as they come here." Pilots sometimes have long waits at the airport, he explained, and through these building improvements, "when they leave, they'll have a real positive attitude about the Perham airport."