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Finding ‘fence kids’

Air-Mods Flight Center reaches out to the next generation of aviators

By Jim Pitman 

“You know, when the kids come out to the airport and watch planes through the fence,” said Ilissa Skinner, flight school director at Air-Mods Flight Center, Trenton-Robbinsville Airport (N87), Robbinsville, New Jersey. 

The Trenton-Robbinsville Airport is located near residential areas that make it easy for young people to observe airport operations. But with current-day security requirements, the fence is as close as they can get on their own.

“We always go out of our way to invite kids into the school,” Skinner said. “We show them around, let them sit in the planes, and even snap of few photos that they can take back to their parents. Of course, we always invite them to come back with their parents to talk to us about going for a demo flight. Many don’t come back, but some do. And that makes it all worth the effort.”

Kevin Carduner was one of those fence kids. Some of Carduner’s earliest memories are looking up and watching airplanes fly over his house. In 2011, when he was 14, Carduner started riding his bike to the Trenton-Robbinsville Airport about a mile from his house. “I always tried to get as close as I could to the action. That usually meant hanging outside the fence near the FBO. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes. It was great to go and watch them take off and land,” Carduner said.

Before long one of the flight instructors at Air-Mods spotted Carduner. “Mark introduced himself and invited me to the other side of the fence. I can’t tell you how excited I was. He showed me around the flight school and let me sit in one of the planes. That was all it took. I was hooked and I knew aviation was going to be a big part of my life,” Carduner said.

Soon after that special day, Carduner started helping out around the FBO washing airplanes and doing anything else he could to earn flight lessons. He said, “I earned my first few lessons myself, then when my parents saw how determined I was, they started helping as well. I would even wash the flight instructors’ cars to help pay for my training.”

Carduner soloed at 16 and earned a private pilot certificate. Now 20, Carduner is enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. He will soon earn his airframe and powerplant certificate and is scheduled to begin ERAU’s professional pilot training program later this month. “Right now I’m looking forward to working as a corporate pilot, but we’ll see what happens. The future is bright for pilots and mechanics right now. I’m just excited to be in such an amazing industry,” Carduner said.

Robert De Leo is another young person who trained at Air-Mods. “I started playing with flight sim on our home computer when I was only 6. My family was always impressed when I told them I had learned how to land a new type of airplane,” he said.

De Leo’s parents bought him a demo flight at Air-Mods for his fifteenth birthday. “I was so excited to finally fly a real plane and my instructor was impressed with how well I did. I guess all of those flight sim hours really paid off! It was a great first flight lesson. That’s also when we learned about Air-Mod’s AeroCamp, which played a big part in helping me make the decision to start taking lessons.”

De Leo soloed as soon as he turned 16 and he earned a private pilot certificate the same month he got his driver’s license. Now 17, De Leo hopes to fly for Delta Air Lines someday. Even though he was not actually hanging on the fence like Kevin Carduner, Robert De Leo is another example of the young people in our communities who have the desire and enthusiasm to thrive in the aviation industry.

Do you have fence kids at your airport? Even if you’re not in an area where kids can walk up to your fence, it’s worth considering that there are many young people within just a few miles of your airport who would love to come visit, but they don’t even know it.

To help find those potential future aviators, Air-Mods started hosting a Kids Aviation Day. “Our first Kids Aviation Day was last summer and then we did it again this year. It was such a success that we are thinking of doing multiple events each year,” Skinner said.

The basic setup is like many other aviation events, but with a special focus on young people. “It’s great to see how excited they are just being at the airport. We partnered with our local EAA chapter and were able to give demo flights to 204 kids at our last event. We know that many of them will never pursue a pilot certificate or career in aviation, but for those who do, it’s neat to know that we were there to help plant that seed and inspire them to follow their dreams,” Skinner said.

Air-Mods’ partnership with the New Jersey Aviation Education Council (NJAEC) has provided significant help and benefits, Skinner said. “NJAEC is the best. They have helped so much at every level. On the day of each event, they were there with several volunteers manning booths with various activities and demonstrations for the kids. They really helped make our events extra special,” she said.

Several states have similar councils that may be able to provide your flight school with help and resources. Visit the NJAEC website for more information.

For more information about Air-Mods Flight Center and its initiatives to encourage young people, contact Ilissa Skinner at 609-259-6877 or visit the website.

Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website

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