Business Profile | Matt Zahora

January 2016 View more

While you were a sophomore in college, you were hired as a pilot for Air Wisconsin—one of the youngest airline pilots ever hired. How did you become interested in aviation?

In sixth grade at Gregory Middle School, one of my classmate’s dads took us up for a ride in his plane. I was hooked! Later, I worked as a line service technician at a charter company and discovered how useful aviation can be for business. When I started flight training, I enjoyed the many challenges it presented. I began progressing through my ratings and was able to complete my commercial pilot certification before college. I could now apply to become an airline pilot, so I began sending resumes in my sophomore year. Air Wisconsin called me in for an interview, and unexpectedly offered me a position as a first officer. I worked as a pilot for a while but soon found the challenge ended there. My career progression would be entirely based on a seniority list. Also, around 2008, there was a national airspace epidemic that led to business travelers missing flights due to frequent delays and cancellations. I knew that private aviation provided a better way to travel if only it was more readily available to the general public.

In 2010 you established Chicagoland Aviation (CLA) based in Romeoville, a charter aviation company and flight school. Tell us about your vision for the company and the services you provide.

I founded Chicagoland Aviation with a mission to expose more people to the excitement, efficiency, and quality of private aviation. We began as a flight school, but then branched into aircraft sales and management and launched Chicagoland Jet Charter in May. There is great value in chartering an airplane on-demand for business. By flying into smaller airports, we help corporate clients get to and from meetings quickly and home in time for dinner. Companies visit multiple cities in one day, without worrying about cancelled flights, lost luggage, parking hassles or any of the other fun parts of flying commercially. Charter makes the most of everyone’s time.

Tell us about CLA’s “Discovery Flights.”

Discovery Flights provide a chance to experience private aviation with one of our certified instructors, either as a local experience, or a trip over the fabulous Chicago skyline. They are great gifts, and we’ve had our share of wedding proposals and anniversary celebrations on the sunset flights. That’s the fun side of the business—helping others enjoy aviation, or even igniting their passion to become a private pilot.

This past fall you were honored with the Entrepreneurial Excellence Award by the Daily Herald Business Ledger. Tell us about the award and what it means to you professionally.

I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of entrepreneurship, so it was a humbling honor to be recognized for something I do naturally. I’m 29 years old, so I was an honoree in the “under 40” category.

Your career has taken off at such a young age. Where do you get your inspiration and motivation?

I’ve always found it inspiring to look forward, to climb that next mountain. Aviation intrinsically offers those opportunities because there is always the next rating or a more advanced aircraft to fly. When I started my business, I found a whole new set of challenges to conquer. My mentors, like business owners Tom Chakos and Steve Treacy, also inspire me with the wisdom of their experience.

What has been your proudest accomplishment so far in your career?

I am proud to have made it to the 5-year mark in business because 80 percent of small businesses fail in the first two years. Aviation is a difficult, continually evolving industry, but I’ve grown from two airplanes to a fleet that provides full-service transportation solutions. We’ve certainly had our bumps along the way but with the support of great customers and our loyal staff members, we continue to grow.

If you could look into the future, where do you see yourself professionally in 5–10 years?

I’d like to see Chicagoland Jet Charter grow into a major competitor and expand on our aircraft management service. I’m looking forward to working with more pilots and aviation managers who share my passion.

When you are not busy running Chicagoland Aviation, how do you enjoy spending your free time?

I travel a lot for work so I actually enjoy staycations. I also enjoy mountain biking and I’m an avid golfer. We probably donate nearly $10,000 in free flights to nonprofits and private auctions. If there’s a golf outing involved, you’ll see me out on the links.

Photo by Mike Hudson