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High school curriculum, airport access key to growing GAHigh school curriculum, airport access key to growing GA

Bringing more people into aviation by reminding them why you fly, inviting the public to visit airports, and engaging teens in aviation-related high school curriculum are three key ways to expand the general aviation community, AOPA President Mark Baker said March 9 during a livestreamed town hall.

Baker and AOPA Senior Vice President of Marketing Jiri Marousek fielded questions from AOPA members, pilots, and aviation influencers during the one-hour event.

Corporate pilot and aviation social media influencer Kimberly Kissh started the Q&A, asking what AOPA is doing to get more women involved in the aviation industry. Baker responded: “It is one of the things I believe wholeheartedly in as a father of three daughters and a grandfather of four granddaughters. I think there’s no barriers to aviation for gender, and there shouldn’t be.”

Baker cited AOPA’s success with the You Can Fly program’s Aviation High School STEM curriculum, which offers six courses in two pathways, pilot and drone pilot, for grades nine through 12. More than 200 schools in 38 states are teaching the free curriculum to more than 8,000 students; of those students, 25 percent are young women and 40 percent are minorities.

“It’s interesting to me that we are starting at an age where the formative years where people are starting to get an understanding of what they might want to do, might want to learn about, and I would tell you they want to be in aviation,” he said. “So we are working hard to create that pathway.”

AOPA plans to increase the number of classrooms that are offering the curriculum to thousands over the coming years, he said.

“There are going to be lot of great jobs in aviation,” Baker said, “and if you’re going to work for the rest of your life, why not have a fun job?”

Continuing the interest in the You Can Fly high school curriculum, Jerome Stanislaus, a pilot, former teacher, and member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, asked what challenges the high school initiative faced because the coronavirus pandemic forced many schools to switch to virtual learning.

While AOPA didn’t foresee schools moving to a virtual format, the You Can Fly program had already designed much of the training to be able to be accomplished virtually so that AOPA staff could train educators across the country who might not be able to travel to the in-person curriculum training workshops.

“We’ve actually had one of the easiest pathways to teach the STEM aviation education,” Baker said, adding that the hardest part is getting the word out about the free curriculum so that more schools sign up.

Aaron Reeves, a Cessna 172 pilot who also hosts the @flyingsparksgarage show on YouTube with his wife, Emily, asked how pilots can inspire nonaviators to join the aviation community through online videos without coming under the scrutiny of other pilots or regulators.

“We have to remind people why we got into aviation…because it’s fun and because we have the freedom to fly that doesn’t exist practically anywhere else in the world,” Baker said. “And start with the reasons why we did it and then encouragement to say, “And you can do it too.’”

Baker said making airports more welcoming to their surrounding communities would help build interest in aviation.

“I would say one of my favorite things about aviation is going to the airport, seeing people having fun, playing, and seeing how much excitement there is, and frankly taking people for a ride of all ages, that there is nothing that equals the excitement of leaving gravity and the earth, taking a tour around where you live, or where you go, and feeling that freedom [in the] air. I’m telling you, there isn’t anything else like it.

And I think we have to do a better job to invite, to welcome, and to accept everybody that wants to be around that airport and those airplanes.

Jason Miller of The Finer Points asked about threats to GA airports over the next five years.

“We have a very important ecosystem of airports” that AOPA and others work to protect, he said. Threats typically come from a “community that doesn’t understand aviation” or from developers who want the land. AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers who serve as our eyes and ears at more than 2,000 airports and members who vote, participate in city council and airport meetings, and speak up when there is a threat have played a key role in AOPA’s success in keeping airports open.

Baker said that the emerging market of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft will make urban airports (those are the ones typically under threat) even more valuable to their communities and the transportation system.

To make sure the public understands all the benefits that airports provide, Baker recommends hosting airport days to invite the community out to the airport.

BasicMed also came up. A Piper Cherokee Six pilot from California asked when Canada would recognize BasicMed, just as Mexico and the Bahamas allow pilots to fly there under the medical certification alternative. Baker said that while Canada likely won’t accept it in 2021, AOPA is working to get it accepted in the future either through a bilateral agreement with the country or worldwide through the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Pilots also asked Baker for his thoughts on more personal questions, such what aircraft to buy as a newly minted private pilot, living at residential airparks, and predictions on how much avgas fuel prices might increase.

Baker closed the livestream by reassuring pilots: “General aviation in and of itself is booming, it’s growing, it’s welcoming, and I can tell you what—it’s really been the best activity we’ve seen in dozens and dozens of years. So, get out there and enjoy it!”

The You Can Fly program is 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.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Senior Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Senior Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb began working at AOPA in 2004, is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and son. Alyssa is also co-host of AOPA Live This Week.
Topics: You Can Fly, Advocacy, Airport Advocacy

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