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President's Position: Recognizing excellence, rewarding commitment

AOPA honors training providers, awards scholarship

At AOPA, we give a lot of attention to big issues that affect the way our members fly.

mark baker At AOPA, we give a lot of attention to big issues that affect the way our members fly. I’m sure many of you could recite a litany of things we’re working on today: issues such as FAA reauthorization, certification reform, unleaded fuels, drones, and more.

But there’s a lot happening quietly behind the scenes that deserves our attention, too. We don’t hear much about the great flight schools and CFIs who train students and create the next generation of pilots. Nor do we often hear about the young people who are committed to learning to fly and one day having aviation careers.

They, too, deserve the attention of the pilot community. That’s why I want to tell you about a couple of things we’re doing at AOPA to recognize some of the nation’s best flight schools and instructors, and to help some committed students achieve their aviation dreams.

Each year, we ask students from around the country to tell us about their training experiences—the good and the not so good. Based on what they tell us, we identify some of the very best schools and instructors, and honor them with Flight Training Excellence Awards. The awards were designed to celebrate flight training professionals who not only help students get through training, but who also help those students really become part of the aviation community. We know that having a sense of community makes all the difference when it comes to keeping people flying after they earn the certificate.

The awards serve another purpose, too: spotlighting best practices and encouraging schools to share their experiences with what really works.

In 2015 we received more than 7,100 responses to our Flight Training Poll. Based on the poll results, we selected Aeroventure Institute of Southbridge, Massachusetts, as the 2015 Best Flight School and Todd Shellnutt of Atlanta as the 2015 Best Flight Instructor. Another 10 schools and 10 instructors were recognized as Outstanding. And yet another 23 flight schools and 45 instructors made it to our Honor Roll.

Not every great school or instructor can be identified by poll numbers alone, so each year I select a school for the President’s Choice Award. For 2015 it went to Paragon Flight, in Fort Myers, Florida, for the school’s innovative contributions to the flight training community. Each year we also recognize the school that receives the most positive nominations from its students. For the fourth year in a row, that distinction went to Aviation Adventures in Manassas, Virginia.

It makes me proud to see schools and CFIs working so hard—and so successfully—to create capable new pilots and bring them into the community of aviators.

Exceptional students also deserve our acknowledgement. One way we do that is through our scholarship programs, which in 2015 awarded more than $135,000 to help individuals pursue their aviation dreams. In October 2015, Flight Training magazine announced 24 scholarship winners who received amounts of $2,500 to $12,000 each to use toward primary and advanced training. The winners included 10 female aviators, three helicopter pilots-in-training, 11 high-school and college-age student pilots, and one recipient in her sixties.

The scholarships were made possible by the AOPA Foundation, the Breitling Aviation Scholarship Fund, and generous donations from individuals and organizations.

Most recently, we awarded four AV8RS scholarships worth more than $22,000 to teenagers who love to fly and want to make aviation part of their lives. These young scholarship winners have already shown impressive commitment and a strong drive to achieve their goals.

Allison Adams of Kentucky, who spends Saturday mornings volunteering on maintenance projects at Capital City Airport, will use her scholarship to help pay tuition at Eastern Kentucky University, where she is earning an aviation/pro flight degree. Jason Preston, a junior at Avon Grove High School in Pennsylvania—where he founded an aviation club—will use his scholarship money to complete primary flight training. Dylan Kuchan, a high school senior in the aviation program at Arizona’s East Valley Institute of Technology, will use his scholarship to complete primary training on the way to becoming an airline pilot. Nicholas Remele, a Civil Air Patrol cadet and a sophomore studying aerospace engineering at Arizona State University, will use his scholarship money to help pay for tuition.

I find it inspiring to know that young people like these will be the aviation leaders of tomorrow, and I’m honored that—along with the great instructors and schools that shape their aviation experiences—AOPA can be there to help them on their way.

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AOPA President Mark Baker learned to fly in a Cessna 150.

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