Well-known aviation writer and retired airline captain Barry Schiff hadn’t imagined the buzz he would create when he offered $3,000 of his own money to underwrite the start of flight training for some aspiring young pilot.
He made this offer in his monthly column in this past October’s issue of AOPA Pilot magazine and invited others to join in this “Solo Scholarship” program to encourage young people to pursue their dreams of flight. To apply for the scholarship, Schiff wrote, contestants ages 16 through 20, must submit a 500-word essay on why he or she wants to become a pilot, with a cut-off deadline of Dec. 15, 2011.
Already, he has received several dozen essays. More than that, he has received checks from individuals, along with the offer of assorted aviation equipment and supplies from a variety of manufacturers and providers, all who are eager to participate in the scholarship program.
Schiff, a pilot with 28,000 hours of flight time in 325 types of aircraft, said he wanted to “pay it forward” by enabling young people to discover the joys of aviation. At the same time, he wants to address the problem of declining starts for new pilot training.
“Not enough young people are getting involved in aviation,” he said. “We can debate the reasons for this, but whatever they are, I’d like to help overcome that in some way. I hope to help a few more kids get into flying, those who otherwise might not have the opportunity…and they’re going to love it! It’s more than giving kids a ride in a plane. It’s giving them an opportunity to take the controls and actually envision an amazing career in the sky.”
Administering the program and overseeing the disbursement of funds is the Van Nuys Propeller Aircraft Association, or “VNY Prop” for short, a non-profit organization dedicated to the support of general aviation at the Van Nuys Airport (VNY) in Southern California. Anyone who wants to make donations in support of the Solo Scholarship Program is encouraged to contribute any amount, large or small. Checks should be made payable to VNY Prop at 16644 Roscoe Blvd., Van Nuys, CA 91406. The winning students — and there likely will be several — can choose any flight school in the country at which to take lessons.
“We have an opportunity to show the industry that we can do something about the impending pilot shortage,” said Elliot Sanders, immediate past-president of VNY Prop. “Barry is a man who has seen it all, and now he’s stepping up to the plate to address the problem, and we want to join him. This really should be a group effort of airport operators, of airlines, of aviation associations, and all those who have a stake in our having enough pilots to fill the pipeline just a dozen or so years from now.”
“I’ve yet to hear from the airlines, aviation industry officials and politicians who I know read my column,” Schiff noted. “So far, all of the money that’s being sent to supplement the scholarship is from people I don’t know — they’re coming out of the woodwork to help. I’m hoping the industry, which needs these pilots and likely won’t have them in the not-too-distant future, gets the message.”
Contestants wishing to enter the competition must go to BarrySchiff.com and click on “Email Barry” to submit their essays.