Approved departure time: Pete Schultz steps down from the tower

You could say that Pete Schultz’s life has almost literally revolved around Capital Region International Airport.

Pete, who is retiring Nov. 30 after working in air traffic control at CRIA since 1991, grew up two streets south of the airport. Then, as a teenager in the late 1970s, he began working at Custom Aviation and Electronics, the family-owned fixed-base operator that provided various aeronautic services at CRIA.

Determined to pursue a permanent career in aviation, as several immediate family members had, Pete in October 1984 was accepted at the Federal Aviation Administration Academy in Oklahoma City to train as an air traffic controller.

Having met that challenge, his first choice of duty was his beloved hometown airport. However, with no openings at Lansing, he accepted his next choice ­– Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti – in February 1985.

After moving on from there for a four-year stint at MBS International Airport in Freeland, Pete in September 1991 finally landed his coveted spot in the Lansing Air Traffic Control Tower (LAN ATCT).

 

Landing his dream job

Except for an 18-month temporary assignment at Jackson County Airport as acting air traffic manager in the mid-’90s, the Lansing Catholic High School graduate spent the rest of his career at LAN ATCT, the last 11 years as a front-line supervisor.

“It was always his goal to work in Lansing,” says his wife, Deb. “He’d say, ‘This is my home and where I want to be.’” Not even the perceived prestige of working at a bigger airport could lure him away, she adds.

Part of Pete’s experience at CRIA was meeting Deb – who held administrative positions in the FAA Air Traffic and Technical Operations departments from 1986 until retiring in 2016 – and marrying her in 1996.

“We feel so blessed to be able to have had this career,” Deb says. “It has always been exciting, fun and a little stressful.”

Beyond helping ensure the safety of all passenger and commercial planes at the airport, Lansing’s air traffic controllers are responsible for separation of aircraft up to 10,000 feet within an airspace radius stretching hundreds of miles.

“It still amazes me,” Deb says. “Controllers have to basically see everything in 3-D, simultaneously separating everything both vertically and horizontally.”

 

Not ready to coast

Pete is retiring at the age of 55 – just shy of the mandatory retirement age for air traffic controllers of 56 – after successfully navigating the pressures of the position for 33 years.

 “His employees truly appreciate him,” she says. “He’s heartfelt. He’s special. He’s always been dedicated to Lansing. They are going to miss him.”

His retirement is also a milestone for the Schultz family. His father, Martin, started the family’s legacy at the Lansing airport in January 1947, working for the Michigan Department of Aeronautics. He purchased Custom Aviation and Electronics in 1972, then sold the business in 1980 to Pete’s older brother Steve and brother-in-law Bill.

Steve, who now supervises the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Office of Aeronautics, is the only Schultz still stationed at CRIA. But he plans to retire in January 2018, which will mark the end of 71 years of Schultzes working at CRIA.

As for Pete, he plans to do more than relax at his and Deb’s new home on a lake near Onsted in Lenawee County. He intends to devote much of his time to volunteering, including assisting with disaster relief, with which he already has several years of experience.

He has served as a chaperone for students in Jackson Northwest High School’s Give Hope program, which, for example, has helped tear down and rebuild houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

“He is really a good craftsman,” Deb says. “We enjoy creating and working on projects together. I’m sure we will have plenty to keep us busy.”