Even buoyed by decades of fond memories and stories of several lifetimes, the Taloney family of Columbus is finding change painful.
After more than 30 years managing the Lowndes County Airport, Taloney Air Service will no longer serve as the fixed-base operator after March 31.
In 1978, when Mike and Diane Taloney took on the responsibility of the airport, it was “almost like a farm,” with cows wandering around the runways, and “in terrible condition,” said Gennifer Taloney, the wife of Mike and Diane”s eldest son, Tony. “They just made this airport their lives.”
The Taloneys put their hearts and souls into building the airport, which was the only local airport to offer commercial flights before Golden Triangle Regional Airport was constructed into today”s successful venture.
In addition to offering private flying lessons, the Taloneys previously conducted an Initial Flight Training program for Columbus Air Force Base.
“We used to have a good number of students out here,” Gennifer Taloney recalled. “They would teach the students to fly small planes before going on to other training.”
The program, which once was the largest in the country, ended around 2005.
“It”s kind of neat,” Gennifer Taloney said of the IFT program. “(The pilots trained here) are flying all over the world or are out fighting in the war and they learned to fly in Columbus. It”s just amazing, when I go somewhere, to see the lives my mother- and father-in-law have affected by having the business out here.”
In addition to teaching many local doctors and others to fly, Mike Taloney also taught his sons, Tony and Justin, who both now are commercial pilots.
“It”s something my husband grew up doing,” said Gennifer Taloney, who works as an office manager for L.H. Nickels and Associates and started helping at the airport about two years ago, noting most of the work at the airport now is done by “two fantastic employees,” Tim Cravy and Tracy Johnson. “They”re wonderful, dependable employees always eager to help.”
A former U.S. Air Force civil engineer, Mike Taloney, 61, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 10 years ago.
Now, his health issues and the resulting financial expenses have become too much for the family to continue to serve the aviation community in the same way.
“When we renewed our contract, my father-in-law had a heart attack,” Gennifer Taloney explained. “We thought he would be better. But (also) the economy has really taken a toll on aviation. Sometimes you can”t keep keeping on.
“We”ve been kind of holding it together for my father-in-law in hopes he”d one day get better,” she added. “But the economy has played a part as well. When people can”t buy groceries, they”re not going to come out here and learn to fly.”
Tony and Gennifer Taloney still live in Columbus, but Tony now flies for a company in Laurel.
“It”s like losing a part of your heart or something,” Tony Taloney, who had been active at the Lowndes County Airport since he was 3 years old, said of giving up the family business. “It”s tough; it was 30 years of my life. I remember washing airplanes to get a ride. I learned to drive out here (at the airport). It just hurts to watch it go away.
“Everybody says change is good, but it hurts,” he added. “It”s tough. You kind of see things going differently, I guess. I always thought Dad would be out here and me and (my brother) Justin would be out here. I never thought our lives would go so separately.”
Justin Taloney, and his wife, Jessica, now live in Mobile, Ala., where Justin flies for a New Orleans, La.-based company.
“After 30 years, it”s tough to let go, especially knowing all the friends you”ve made out here over the years,” Justin Taloney, 28, said. “I think with the way things are now, it”s probably for the best. But it”s tough to let go.”
“We were really blessed and met a lot of great people,” said Diane Taloney, a Columbus native. “It”s like a family, you know. You”d have your hang-arounds that would come and just talk aviation. It”s just like a big family.
“We”ve been really blessed to be able to do it for 30 years,” she added. “We worked really hard to build the airport and make it a better place. We realized the airport is the gateway to your city. And we love Columbus. This is home.”
“It was good while we had it,” Mike Taloney said of the airport. “We really hate to give it up.”
“We started really young and Mike fell in love with aviation,” Diane Taloney recalled. “We worked really hard, raised two children out there and met a lot of fantastic people along the way. One of my most treasured thing is we trained a lot of Air Force pilots, who (now) are fighting for our freedom. That”s really special to me.
“We more than anything just really regret having to give it up, because of the health reasons and the financial reasons,” she continued. “When you”re fighting health reasons, it gets really expensive. It”s hard for us to let go, it really is. My husband”s goal was to get better and get back out there. We”ve had a rough two years trying to fight challenges. But we”ve loved every minute of it.”
“Sure did!” Mike Taloney agreed.
“We were out there 30 years and will miss the people and flying,” he explained. “We”ll miss teaching people how to fly and just the friendships we made. We just loved it.”
Beginning April 1, Tri-South Aviation will serve as the FBO under a two-year agreement with the city, with two five- to 10-year extension agreements to be available.
“Have a love of it,” Diane Taloney responded, when asked what advice she would offer the next FBO. “It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of energy. You”ll get calls in the middle of the night (from pilots needing to refuel and other things). But it”s been a long-term relationship with a lot of great people. We just hate giving that up the most.”