Flying High

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Ilya and Michael Khakham

Dreams do come true for this father-son duo.

All his life, 61-year-old Ilya Khakham dreamed of flying. Today, in America — at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford, to be precise — those dreams have become a reality. But the native of Moldova, who came to Michigan in 1990 with his wife, Nina, and two children, might never have lived his dreams without the help of Metropolitan Detroit’s Jewish community.

“We were accepted as political refugees,” Khakham recalled, “but we had nobody. We left Russia and were waiting at the American Embassy in Rome, looking for a sponsor. Then the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit accepted us. They sponsored us; they paid for our tickets from Rome to Detroit and helped us to rent an apartment.”

Khakham and his young family came with just their suitcases but “had the support of this community from the very first day.”

“Community members donated furniture, food, clothes for our kids,” Khakham said. “Federation gave us a no-interest loan to buy our first car. Jewish Family Service helped train us in English and found us an American family, Jim and Arlene Miller, and they helped to take care of us and taught us how to adapt to American life.”

Khakham and his family also had help from Julia and Marc Shapiro.

“They supported us then, and still to this day we have a wonderful relationship with them,” he said. “They were immigrants just before us — they came in 1978 — and gave us a ton of help to find our first jobs, to learn English. I can’t say enough about what these two families did for us.”

Some 25 years later, the West Bloomfield resident and his family have certainly adapted. He and his 28-year-old son, Michael, today operate the aptly named DCT Aviation, or Dreams Come True, a flight training center where Ilya not only lives his dream of flight, but also passes it onto others who share that dream.

“In 1999, my dad had some medical complications, and this was what he wanted to do his whole life,” Michael said. “At that point, my mom said if you want to do this, do it now, so he got his pilot’s license that year and flew for eight years while he worked as an engineer.”

Then in 2008, after Michael earned his degree in economics and business at Michigan State University, the father-son team launched DCT with one plane and two students. Today the Khakhams own eight planes and serve more than 300 customers.

“Last year we bought a building at Oakland International that we fully occupy,” Michael said. “We house all of our planes here and also have tenants, and we now have a brand new training facility.”

Those new facilities include a 16,000-square-foot hangar and 4,000-square-foot office space.

“Another business of ours is DCT in Motion, a full-motion simulator, which complements flight training and is FAA-approved for loggings hours,” Michael said. “It increases the efficiency of our training process. We’ve been approved as a full-time school, which means we will be able to issue F1 and M1 visas to accept international students by the end of this year, and we can accept veterans’ benefits for those men and women interested in a career as a pilot.”

Ilya and Michael also handle aircraft maintenance and refurbishing, taking planes that are decades old and refurbishing them to new condition, with new engines, propellers and paint.

They’re currently working on certification to operate an “air taxi,” an eight-seater plane that would make short flights to Mackinac, Chicago, New York and other nearby destinations.

“This was a childhood dream, and this is a country where those dreams can come true; it just depends on your personality,” Ilya said. “If you’re brave enough, strong enough, have the mental will, then if you want to do something, nobody can stop you. Look at how far we’ve come, this business has come. It’s all proof.

“But we couldn’t do it without the help and support of the community,” he added. “I have to express my big, big appreciation for everyone that supported us from day one. On Feb. 6, we celebrated our 25th anniversary in America, and we celebrate every year as a family — it’s tradition.

“The Jewish Federation does an absolutely outstanding job to support newcomers like us. Without them, I don’t know. As Jews, we must support each other. It doesn’t matter if you’re a relative or not; it’s a characteristic of our people.”

By Ryan Fishman, Contributing Writer

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