You might say that James and Ali Riordan have lofty aspirations. They recently opened their new business, Pioneer Aviation, LLC, at the Kanab Airport. They are offering scenic flights and biplane rides that will...elevate your adventure!

The Riordans moved to the Kanab area with their two boys, John, 14, and Joe, 12. “We came from Jiggs, Nev.,” said James. “I grew up there on a multi-generational family ranch. Ali’s from Florida.”

Flying was just always a part of Riordan’s life. “I grew up flying. My father Mike was a flight instructor and charter pilot in nearby Elko. My mom Claudia is also a pilot. Ali also has pilots on her side.”

Riordan got his own pilot’s license in 2003. “It was more of a hobby while I was a firefighter and a rancher,” said James.

James put in 20 years with the Elko Fire Department, retiring as a Captain. But the interesting (and convenient) fact was, his employment was stationed at the airport – he was surrounded by planes!

Wife Ali was a home mom and also helped with the Riordan family ranch. “We helped the family and also had our own herd,” said Ali.

After attending a relative’s funeral in Las Vegas in 2016, Ali and James decided to take a little road trip and go visit old family friends. The Jennings family owns the Arrowhead Bed and Breakfast in Mt. Carmel.

“We saw Kanab and the surrounding area, and fell in love,” said James. “We looked around, ate at Houston’s and just loved the town. We moved here within a year.”

With the ranch being owned by the family for six generations, it was certainly a hard decision for an only son to move away! But, as with most life-changing decisions, things eventually worked out.

“We always liked the idea of owning a scenic flight company and you just can’t beat the beautiful scenery around here,” said James.

“That’s when James was coming up to his 20 years at the fire department, and we had already been contemplating a move,” added Ali.

A new business was born – Pioneer Aviation in Kanab, Utah!

The Riordans offer two different radial engine airplanes for hired flight. The 1986 Waco YMF bi-plane. “I bought it in Georgia,” said James.

“He flew it across the country,” said Ali with pride.

“Yeah, it only took me six days! It seats one to two passengers depending on size and weight. It only goes about 95 miles an hour,” James said. “It’s loud and windy because it’s an open cockpit, and it’s just so much fun.”

The second plane is a 1952 Cessna 195 “Businessliner” that seats up to four passengers, again depending on size and weight. “It was the corporate jet of its time, with a plush interior based off of the Packard car,” James added.

As for what they like about flying, the Riordans responded they enjoy sharing the experience of flight. “We love sharing aviation,” said James. “We saw the business as an opportunity here in this beautiful area, and wanted our family to have the benefit of small town life like we were accustomed to.”

For information on scenic flights, or to meet the Riordans, call 435-644-2523, or check out their website at