So here we are racing toward the end of the decade with the ADS-B deadline approaching and a strong sense that aviation is lacking the volume of trained workers it will require to barrel into the future with the gusto it should.
Solutions to this conundrum abound. Not the least of which is the shift at high schools across the country to begin offering aerospace programs to their students. This is encouraging.
It’s also fraught with problems for those who are intent on seeing the risk behind every opportunity.
For far too long, far too many have been willing — even eager — to forego practical, beneficial opportunities in a myopic and largely futile effort to avoid risk.
Let’s be honest, you can’t win if you don’t risk losing. You can’t make great strides if you don’t accept that you’ll stumble now and then. It’s reality. To avoid all risk is to doom yourself to a level of mediocrity that just doesn’t appeal to those who are more interested in achievement than they are worried about the occasional skinned knee.
When it comes to students though, the argument against an ultra-safe, bubble-wrapped populace becomes a more difficult challenge. People are very fussy about their children and their money.
When it comes to primary and secondary education, the conversation necessarily touches on both those topics. Given that, it’s no surprise so many schools have cut shop classes, music education, home economics, or any of the other learning opportunities that were deemed to be excessively risky, expensive, or both.
Ironically, these are also the classes that taught the most practical life skills. Admittedly, there may be a considerable amount of pride wrapped up in being able to name the capitals of all 50 states in alphabetical order, but I have yet to find a job in private industry where that particular skill is in demand.
So let’s reconsider the benefit of these aeronautical courses being offered in high schools. They’re new. They’re shiny. They get a fair amount of press coverage, with more to come, no doubt. But what’s the real value of these courses? Will our high schools really be filled with future pilots?
Maybe, maybe not. Producing a new influx of pilots, mechanics, engineers, administrators, line workers, and such wouldn’t be such a horrible outcome. Aviation tends to pay well for those who do it professionally. It tends to be life-affirming for those who do it recreationally. And I would argue that an education in aeronautics provides a serious push toward understanding and working with technology, managing complex systems, accepting personal responsibility for one’s actions, and — perhaps most important of all — critical decision-making skills.
That’s all good. More importantly, those skills are all transferable to other endeavors, both professional and recreational. Whether the student who jumps into a high school aerospace program becomes a professional pilot or not, they benefit from an education that sets the bar high and encourages even significant challenges to be perceived as enjoyable opportunities for success.
But, of course, high schools across America have not suddenly given up their aversion to risk. While students can get a solid education in pilot science, or drone technology, few schools are likely to encourage their students to actually fire up an aircraft and get airborne. That’s too far outside the average administrator’s comfort zone.
Knowing that, you might be inclined to think these aerospace programs are of limited value. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The transfer of knowledge, skills, confidence, and decision-making will serve students well throughout their lives, no matter what line of work they get in to. However to get the maximum bang for the buck out of these programs, there is a missing component that can — and in many cases should — be established on the private side.
Away from the limits of the school’s administration, yet with a level of oversight that brings safety to the forefront while allowing — even encouraging — students to take that next step to actually interact with aircraft on the ground and in the air.
The key to getting the maximum potential from a high school or college based aerospace program very well may be the establishment of a flying club that is separate from the host school, but remains committed to serving the students involved with that program. While the school is not likely to welcome an airline captain, a corporate pilot, a maintenance chief, or an administrator to their classrooms on a regular basis, a flying club can do just that.
Mentorship is of such profound benefit to those who are launching off into life, we would do well to find and do our best to exploit every opportunity to include that service into our educational system. Privately operated flying clubs are an absolutely rock-solid vehicle to provide that exact opportunity to the next generation coming up behind us, and the generation coming up behind them, and so on.
This isn’t a totally original idea, of course. There are a number of schools that have pioneered this exact approach.
The school, whether public or private, hosts the ground-based educational offerings that can set students up for success should they decide to take the next step by becoming active participants in aviation. The flying club exists outside the school, which allows the school to be sheltered from the liability they so often fear, while the students learn to start and operate a non-profit business with adult oversight. That non-profit business is intentionally designed to be a flying club, which provides an affordable entry point to actually flying, either airplanes or drones, or both, which gives those students the hands-on experience that can make all the difference at that nascent stage of life, education, and career preparation.
These are exciting times. I hope you can find a way to be a part of the remarkable opportunities that are opening up — either as a student or a mentor. If you’re interested, there’s a place for you.