I want to extend a warm “hello” to all of you. I hope everyone’s summer flying and all summer activities have been great so far!
My name is Justin Weninger, and I am the new Chairman of the North Dakota Aviation Association (NDAA). I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. I am a business banking and aviation lending officer for American Bank Center in Bismarck, ND. I am married to my high school sweetheart, and we have three kids that I love chasing after, and watching the world through their eyes.
My earliest memory of flying was around six years old. My dad took my brother and I to Capital Aviation in Bismarck for an airplane ride with Bob Watts. I walked out to the airplane, took one look in it, turned around, and went back inside. There was no way I was getting in that thing. So, as my dad and brother went flying, I sat inside and played with the cat and enjoyed an orange soda.
In sixth grade, our teacher assigned the class a project to interview someone with a career we thought was interesting. I decided I didn’t want to do the standard careers, I wanted something really cool! I wanted to interview a pilot and really blow my class away! I was able to get set up with Roger Pfeiffer, who was a neighbor down the road. I remember riding my bike to his house, not knowing what to expect. As Roger poured through his logbooks, showing me all of these incredible journeys, I was the one blown away. Riding my bike home that night, it wasn’t simply a Huffy bicycle anymore, it was one of those airplanes Roger told me all about and I was its captain. This is when my love for aviation really started.
During our visit, Roger suggested I look into the local Civil Air Patrol, as a way to become connected to aviation at a young age. Two weeks later, my dad and I attended one of the weekly Tuesday night cadet meetings. I signed up that night and stayed an active member all through middle school and high school. Being involved for those seven years afforded me the opportunity to take advantage of numerous orientation flights, United States Air Force Familiarization flights, and even some flight training. Along with that came lifelong best friends.
In high school, it was time to get a job. I once again didn’t want a standard job like all of my classmates had, I wanted something cool. I started working as a line guy at the Bismarck airport and continued working on the line for five years. What an incredible opportunity with the people I met and the fun I had! At some point in the first year of working there, I decided to take a couple of training flights in the Cessna 152. Eventually, I was turning my paychecks back in for more flight training. If I wasn’t hooked already, I certainly was now. Then on November 18, 2003, I became a private pilot. What a dream come true, and the start to my bigger dream.
The airport and the Fixed Based Operator (FBO) became my hang out spots. My friends and I hung out watching airplanes, eating popcorn, talking to pilots, and learning the finer points of when to make a new pot of FBO coffee. The three of us dreamed of where our love of aviation would take each of us. My girlfriend - now wife - knew that if she wanted to see me, it’d be at the airport. There were many dates with her spent flying the Cessna 172 to Hazen, Dickinson, or just around the Bismarck area.
After two years at Bismarck State College, it was time to head up to the University of North Dakota (UND). Being a Private Pilot already, I was able to enroll in the abbreviated transition course that UND Aerospace offered. Flying at UND was something much different than what this Part 61 boy had become accustomed to. It taught me how to approach flying from the professional mindset, a skill I’m thankful for everyday! Being in the Aviation Management and eventually the Airport Management program, I started taking business classes as well. In 2008, I graduated from UND with a double major in Airport Management and Financial Management. Although I did not attain any more ratings or certificates from my time at UND, I knew it wasn’t the end of the dream to fly. I knew that it was just going to be put on hold for now. A new path to my dream would come around.
After a short stint in Minneapolis, MN, a move back home to Bismarck, and three kids later, it was time to get back in the air. In 2017, I started toying with the idea of jumping head first back into aviation and buying an airplane. In June of that year, along with a couple of great partners, I was able to buy a Cirrus SR-22. I decided that at this point in my life, it’s time to rekindle the dream and start chasing it. I started building flight time, worked through my Instrument Rating, Commercial Pilot Certificate, and my Multi-Engine Rating. Through my connections made while working at the airport all those years ago, I was able to start flying right seat in a corporate jet part-time.
I can truly say this is a dream come true; a dream that would blow away 12-year-old me.
However, I didn’t get here by myself. I really need to thank my wife, my parents, and some incredible friends who’ve helped me along the way and given me opportunities to achieve my dreams! But also, I need to thank the community of aviation here in North Dakota, which has done so much for me. And that is why I’m so proud to be able to give back to this community through the North Dakota Aviation Association. I’m proud to be the Chairman of this great organization and excited to get to work to help build the dream of someone else!
Justin Weninger, Chairman
North Dakota Aviation Associaton