Flying For Good
Monday, February 27, 2023
It’s a nine-degree morning and the sun is slowly rising in the distance at the Anoka County–Blaine Airport in the north Twin Cities metro.
Ken Reily, a senior lecturer in the Carlson School’s Information & Decision Sciences Department, sits alone in the cockpit of an eight-seat plane. He reads back a clearance to an air traffic controller and begins taxiing the plane along a taxiway that is still partially covered by snow from a storm the day before.
Within a few minutes, he’s cleared for takeoff.
On this day, Reily is flying as a volunteer pilot for LifeLine Pilots, a non-profit organization that coordinates free air transportation for passengers with medical or humanitarian needs.
His trip is a 38-minute flight to Wausau, Wis., to pick up Julie Kreager and take her to a physical therapy appointment in Rochester, Minn., later that morning.
It’s an eight-hour roundtrip drive by car. Driving that long causes pain in Kreager’s shoulder, which she is rehabbing. With two young sons at home, an overnight stay also isn’t ideal. By plane, Kreager is there and back in about 90 minutes.
“These pilots are literally angels in the sky,” Kreager says. “These flights are a blessing to me.”
Reily has volunteered with LifeLine Pilots since 2010. In that time, he’s completed almost 50 flights, flown more than 11,000 miles, and his gift-in-kind work adds up to more than $300,000.
“A traditional perspective on any academic role has three parts to it,” Reily says “There's teaching, there's research, and there's service. And, obviously, I enjoy teaching, and that's a big focus of what I do. I don't do a whole lot of research, but I have done some and advised some. But I think a big part of what they encourage us to do at the Carlson School and the University is to be involved in the community. I view my work with LifeLine as being part of that service component and the holistic mission that we're trying to accomplish.”
Reily first became interested in becoming a pilot when he would play Microsoft Flight Simulator on his father’s work computer. From there, he worked a job bagging groceries in high school to earn enough money to put it toward his pilot’s license.
He had thoughts about becoming a full-time pilot but pivoted to a computer science degree in college. Flying became a hobby of his, with LifeLine Pilots providing him many of his flying opportunities.
Since then, Reily has become heavily involved with LifeLine Pilots and has joined the organization’s board, where he helped reshape its website and flight database.
“I thought this was a great way for me to combine two of my passions—flying and computer science,” says Reily, who teaches in the Master of Science in Business Analytics and Undergraduate programs. He also coaches students in case competitions and serves as the faculty advisor for CoMIS, a Carlson School-hosted international case competition.
But it’s the passengers such as Kreager that keep Reily coming back.
“It’s all about the passengers,” he says. “You get to know them very well. They look forward to seeing you. They're so gracious and so thankful for what you're doing. You just kind of leave with that tremendously good feeling that makes you want to do it again.”