The sky’s not the limit — it’s just the beginning

Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2023

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360 Aviation flight school is growing at A.L. Airport

Taylor Matz of Hayward was a youth when his grandfather took him in the air for his first airplane ride.

“When my grandpa took me up, it was probably the disbelief that people can actually do this,” he said of how he fell in love with the aviation industry. “The freedom of flying is pretty incredible. It’s always stuck with me and never left.”

He started pilot lessons when he was 14, and before he could even drive a car, Matz was able to fly a plane.

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Though he started as an aviation major in college, he switched to agriculture and ultimately got a degree in ag systems management with a minor in ag business.

But his love of flying led him to continue on.

When he moved back home after college, he completed all of his pilot ratings at the former flight school in Albert Lea.

He has since worked for a small airline out of St. Louis for two years, before working for Skywest Airlines, a Delta carrier. He presently flies a Beechcraft Textron King Air airplane for Mayo Clinic.

Right before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jim Hanson, manager at the Albert Lea Airport, reached out to him after the former flight school closed and asked him if he would be interested in running a flight school here.

He reached out to his former instructor, Darren Schone, and they decided to move forward with the idea, opening 360 Aviation LLC.

Matz, who is the CEO, said Albert Lea’s flight schools have always had a good reputation, and they have made it a point to focus on quality over quantity. That goal fit along nicely with Albert Lea’s new airport, which they said they receive many compliments on.

He said typically there are about four or five students going through the school at any given time, and last year they had 59 students who completed a successful check rating.

Ratings are available for everything from a private pilot certificate to a commercial pilot certificate, along with others to become a certified flight instructor or airline transport pilot, to name a few.

If people are interested in learning to fly, he encouraged them to check out the school’s website at and then stop by to sign up.

Matz and Schone are the lead instructors and they have three other full-time instructors. They have a classroom in the airport building and they rent hangars to house their fleet of three airplanes.

“The sky’s not the limit — it’s only the beginning,” Matz said is the phrase they have on one of their promotional videos.

Each course has a different set of hours the student is required to complete. To become a private pilot, for example, requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time plus ground time on top of that.

Matz said there is a massive shortage of most professions in the aviation industry right now, whether it’s for maintenance, pilots, flight attendants and even dispatchers.

While most airlines used to require a four-year degree of their pilots, many say that is now preferred rather than required. To receive the certificate, their school is much cheaper than going the route of attending college.

He said they have had students from all over Minnesota, but also from outside of the state, including from Texas, Washington, New York, the UK and even China.

“I think a lot of it is word of mouth,” he said. “Once the word gets out that you do something good, word travels quickly.”

They also have an accelerated course option that is attractive to people.

The people who come from outside of the area often come and stay the whole time of their course in Albert Lea, spending money to stay at hotels in the city, buy food and rent cars here. Last year, he said their students had a total of 250 nights spent in hotels in the city.

“We’re really excited to see what happens in the future because we’ve pretty much grown exponentially since we opened,” he said.

The flight school is at 402 Airport Road and can be reached by phone at 383-7434.