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'Gustnado' recovery underway

Missouri flight school working around the clock to restore fleet

Students, staff, and instructors at ATD Flight Systems are working to keep flying after the school's fleet was nearly wiped out on April 20, when gusts reaching 40 knots tore through the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City, Missouri.

Google Earth image.

The flight school’s aircraft, which were chocked outside the flight school for an event during the time of what the National Weather Service called a “gustnado,” were tossed and mangled, leaving students and instructors guessing about their flight training future at the school.

Now, approximately two weeks after the devastation, ATD Flight Systems is in recovery mode.

“Our biggest priority right now is restoring our fleet so our students can get back in the air and so instructors don't lose anymore precious flight time,” said Keara Neifach, director of operations at ATD Flight Systems, in an email.

A large portion of the fleet was significantly damaged in the storm, but one airplane suffered no damage and continues to serve students, and another only sustained minor damage and should be back in the air soon. Additionally, the flight school has taken possession of four leaseback airplanes from Revv Aviation and Red Tail Academy. “[They] came through for us with a moment's notice,” said Neifach.

“The access they are providing is open-ended, which gives us the breathing room we need to buy more quality airplanes.”

The addition of the leasebacks brings ATD Flight Systems’ current serviceable fleet to six aircraft—nearly half of what the flight school was operating with just three weeks ago. However, there are multiple airplanes in contract pending inspection and a few aircraft pending maintenance that were damaged, but not totaled, in the storm. “From a fleet standpoint, our goal is to have the quantity of our fleet restored by early July so our students can fly as much as possible,” said Neifach. “From an operational standpoint, it will take years to get back to where we were. We owned our aircraft outright and invested a great deal of money into aesthetics and avionics. In this market, recovery from something this catastrophic won't happen overnight.”

Fleet restoration is a top priority, but ATD Flight Systems is also focused on supporting its students and instructors during this time—particularly concerned with making sure students who are close to milestones are supported and instructors aren’t losing out on flight time and compensation.

“For the most part, our students have been very patient and understanding. However, we have lost students, and we completely understand why those who have left had to make that tough decision,” said Neifach. “Right now we are trying to prioritize those students who are closest to a checkride so we don't delay their ratings.”

The organization has also set up a GoFundMe to help cover instructor wages while everyone works hard to recover. It has raised nearly $24,000, and flight school management hopes that this, along with other fundraisers, helps keep instructor pay at average hours until the fleet can be restored.

Neifach said the flight school would be “lost” without instructor support right now. “We gave them our word that we are going to fight to come back from this, and in return they’ve given us their faith.

Lillian Geil
Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Weather, Flight School

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