An educational event at Oregon’s Grants Pass Airport March 15 included a thundering Erickson S–64 Aircrane helicopter that captured the attention of several hundred middle- and high-school students; a globe-trotting female pilot who urged them to embrace science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career options; and a pledge of funds for CFIs from airline Horizon Air.
After their boisterous touchdown, a crew from Erickson Aviation Services assisted students scrambling for a view from inside the orange heavy-lifting firefighting machine. More than 300 youth and their parents were surrounded by aircraft, pilots, and educators as a trio of aviation-based learning initiatives were announced in the scenic city cut from a notch in the Coastal Range of the Cascade Mountains.
The summer camp is expanding to three sessions in 2018, and long-range plans call for an aircraft build project that would provide simultaneous high school and college credit while students learn about aviation careers. An enthusiastic LaPlante said the venture was designed to “ignite” middle- and high-school students’ interest in aviation sciences, aerospace engineering, and related subjects. The 10,000-square-foot facility includes a culinary station, multiple classrooms, overnight accommodations, and a flight demonstration area.
He added that the academy is poised to work with “underserved” young people and provide “leadership and personal growth” while building the local pilot and aerospace community. “Industry in the Rogue River valley needs workforce readiness and that became a very clear objective” for the youth program, LaPlante noted. He also plans to launch a hot air balloon academy “by 2021 or 2022” because “there is no central location for balloon training.” The concept calls for out-of-town pilots to “stay for five or six weeks at the newly established Balloonwerks facility” located on the academy grounds. LaPlante said board members were on the lookout for balloon mentors to bring that part of the project to fruition.
Grants Pass Airport manager and vintage Cessna 182 owner Larry Graves told an Oregon Department of Aviation board meeting earlier in the day that members of the general aviation community recognize the industry doesn’t have enough pilots to meet the demands of air travelers.
He explained that “an abundance of traveling passengers” was outstripping pilot resources at an alarming rate. “In the next 10 years, 22,000 ATPs will retire, which is more than the entire staff currently employed by regional carriers—and that’s a problem.”
Graves suggested a lower cost for flight training and a “sense of rugged individualism” would encourage career-oriented young people to choose aviation over alternate careers. Educators at several aviation-oriented colleges have voiced similar concerns over supply and demand.
Horizon Air Director of Pilot Development LaMar Haugaard announced an initiative with Pacific Aviation Northwest that will financially award a pilot while ensuring they stay on track to attain all of their training, ratings, certificates, and flight time.
“We all need someone to inspire us and to show us the way,” he told the group. Although details were not finalized, the initiative calls for a $7,500 award to pilots with a commercial certificate that will help them surpass what Haugaard called “debt fatigue” as they pursue their CFI certificate. He noted that financial strain claimed countless career-oriented pilots. The program, already in place at 10 other hand-picked flight schools, was designed to give candidates “a little bump” of financial relief and to help them stay on track.
One caveat is that recipients must agree to stay and teach at the flight school for two years while they build the minimum number of flight hours required of first officers for regional carriers.
“That gets you to the point where you can actually earn some money and get further experience,” said Pacific Aviation Northwest fixed-base operator and flight school owner David S. Traeger, who counted more than 50 students in his flight school. Traeger said finding, keeping, and mentoring fight instructors was an ongoing challenge because they were so quickly swept up into career pilot roles. Students often contend with a rotating cast of instructors, and changes in technique or rapport can throw students off balance—or cause them to drop aviation altogether.
He said the incentive was intended to inject stability into the flight training environment and to encourage others to follow suit. “With the pilot shortage there’s also a flight instructor shortage to reach new pilots,” Traeger added. “The potential is here for somebody to do a lot of flying and to get a lot of experience.” He currently has two pilots preparing for their CFI checkride, “and they are already planning to go to work here.”
The regimen is intended to provide candidates with the 1,500 minimum flight hours they need for a first officer position, and it also a guarantees an interview with regional air carrier Horizon, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, which operates coast-to-coast flights and serves 118 destinations in five countries.
Southern Oregon Education Service District STEM Manager Daniella Bivens launched the school’s Magic and Wonder of Flight STEAM awareness event by introducing ground-breaking pilot Shaesta Waiz for the keynote. (STEAM adds "art" to the STEM curriculum.)
Waiz was framed by a vintage gold Luscombe 8E, a red-and-white Piper Comanche, and a newly completed Zenith Zodiac CH 601 HDS in a hangar operated by the aviation department for Dutch Bros Coffee, a celebrated Oregon drive-thru coffee company. Founders Dane and Travis Boersma attributed the firm’s rapid growth to the flexibility of scouting locations via GA aircraft.
Waiz captured the students’ attention by relating real-life challenges that she faced during a solo five-month, seven-continent odyssey in a Beechcraft Bonanza.
Waiz said she was unaware of aviation career options when she was the students’ ages and a trip in a commercial airliner changed her life. “When we lifted off and the earth just fell away from the airplane—it was magical.”
She said she was “a shy and timid refugee” living with her parents in California before Waiz found her voice in aviation. Pursuing her dream of flight led to the realization that “STEM was everywhere” in aviation and led to DreamsSoar.org, an organization she founded that mentors youth with a focus on women and minorities and encourages them “to follow their dreams.” She is believed to be Afghanistan’s first female civilian pilot.
Waiz ticked off STEM examples that pilots will likely find familiar: “Science is studying weather; the technology is my iPad; engineering is figuring out fuel tanking for an ocean crossing; and math is calculating my fuel burn, time to destination, and the point of no return,” she explained.
The crowd hushed as Waiz recalled a mechanical problem that threatened to ground the global flight shortly after it began. She said it led to some soul-searching and second thoughts about tackling the expansive Atlantic Ocean on her own.
The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University graduate confided that she drew inspiration from hundreds of youth who wrote in from around the world who encouraged and motivated her to pursue her dream. Waiz planned 30 stops along the route to “inspire young boys and girls” about STEM education and “opportunities they might not even know existed.”
At the conclusion of the program, tenth-grader Annalise Williams climbed into the cockpit alongside Zenith Zodiac aircraft builder Ken Jordan and quizzed him on the airplane’s avionics, flight controls, and power console.
With her mom in tow, Williams said she was already making plans to attend one of the SOAA summer camps to learn more about aviation. “I’m really glad I came here today—Shaesta was so inspiring. I can definitely see myself flying someday,” Williams said.
AOPA’s You Can Fly initiatives also recognize the importance of building the pilot community through programs that include high school learning curriculum, flying clubs, Rusty Pilots seminars, and other pilot-support mechanisms that make flying safe, fun, and affordable. The You Can Fly program is entirely funded by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. To be a part of the solution, visit www.aopafoundation.org/donate.