More than just aviation: how regional airport serves as a community gathering place
From Family Day events to the Pilots N Paws program, Raleigh Exec is a gateway for the community and beyond.Posted — Updated
With easy access to the entire Triangle from its location between Raleigh and Sanford and a large array of aviation services, Raleigh Executive Jetport is one of the regional airports helping business boom in the region — but it's more than just an economic engine.
The jetport uses its resources to serve the community and help important projects, in its own location and even beyond.
"As we looked at trying to build our new terminal, we talked to a lot of people. We visited different terminals in the region, talked to pilots, talked to clients that come through and asked, 'If you were building this, what would you include?'" said Bob Heuts, director at Raleigh Exec. "Every one of them emphasized meeting spaces, so we incorporated that into our new building. It's just one of the ways we're creating a business-to-business atmosphere and offering people the opportunity to connect."
The 14,500-square-foot terminal also features a pilot lounge and an observation deck, the latter of which is often used by school groups and youth organizations.
In an effort to welcome the community to Raleigh Exec's space, the jetport hosts a Family Day event, featuring food, music and the opportunity to meet with staff and pilots. The event was paused for a few years while construction was being done at the airport, but now that construction is over, it's back on.
"We want people not only in Lee County, but in the surrounding area to know about this airport, so Family Day is an outreach and educational opportunity for us," said Heuts. "In the past, we've had flying events or somebody parachuting in. This year we took all of the interesting airplanes we have on the field and put them out on the apron. We brought out some helicopters and some military aircraft — we just wanted to start small and bring the community out again."
Some of the airplanes on display included corporate jets, vintage airplanes and recreational aircraft, as well as military aircraft.
In fact, Raleigh Exec serves as a meeting place and training grounds for a number of military groups, including the Civil Air Patrol, a non-profit corporation that is an auxiliary of the United States Air Force. The main focus of the Civil Air Patrol squadron stationed at Raleigh Exec is the cadet program, which teaches kids about aviation and leadership.
In addition to the flying facilities at Raleigh Exec, the Civil Air Patrol has been able to take advantage of the airport's educational opportunities for their own cadets.
"At Raleigh Exec, they have the school of aviation, and some of our cadets have developed relationships with those pilots and are attending the programs there," said Brandon Baker, commander of the Apex Cadet Squadron with Civil Air Patrol. "Some of our cadets have worked their way up to getting a private pilot's license, and one of my cadets even works as a ground handler there."
While the squadron started using Raleigh Exec in the midst of COVID-19, they're in the process of designating the airport as a permanent location. The group has already put down meaningful roots in the space, working closely with Heuts and his team. In fact, the squadron even helped out during the Family Day events.
In addition to being a gathering place for military groups and the community, Raleigh Exec also serves as a launching point for pets in need.
Pilots N Paws is a national organization that allows volunteers to transport animals to shelters, rescues or adopters across the country — and Raleigh Exec is just one of the many participating airports across the country.
"We've got 180-plus airplanes here, and a number of our pilots are involved with the animal rescue organization. If there's a pet that needs sheltering or certain medical attention that they can't get locally, pilots will fly them out of here," said Heuts. "We've seen lots of dogs coming through here, and they're able to find new homes for them and important care."
For Heuts, one of the most rewarding parts of his work at Raleigh Exec is having a front-row seat to all the work the pilots do.
"Anytime there is a disaster, whether it's a hurricane or a tornado or anything else, we see pilots flying out of here and taking supplies to the areas that have been damaged," said Heuts. "It's just one of the many ways we have seen the aviation community stepping up for our community and beyond, and we're grateful that our facility can be the place for them to do that."
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