PELLSTON – Airline delays and cancellations have become increasingly common recently as a nationwide and global pilot shortage continues to strain the airline industry. It’s projected that 14,500 pilots will be needed every year through 2030, along with tens of thousands of other personnel like technicians and airline crew, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A program hosted by Alanson Public Schools and housed at Pellston Regional Airport is teaching students the skills they need to become pilots and aircraft technicians, sending them skyward with piloting credentials and the ability to jet into the workforce in these high-demand careers.
The Aviation Science and Technology, a Career and Technical Education program through Char-Em Intermediate School District, has been exposing students to varied aviation careers for the past 7 years. Started under former Alanson superintendent and private pilot Dean Paul in 2016, the program began with 13 students, four of whom are currently pursuing aviation careers. Current Alanson superintendent Rachelle Cook has the program firing on all cylinders this year under new teacher Duane Enos, a retired Marine helicopter pilot.
Aviation Science and Technology is a two-year high school program (for juniors and seniors) that explores various career opportunities in the field of aviation, including pilot. It also emphasizes the many different applications of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in the field.
Instructor Enos said: “We use flight simulators, textbooks, magazine articles, real world situations, guest speakers and other appropriate information. Our primary book is the FAA’s ‘Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.’ We also have numerous handouts, videos and other applicable resources.”
The class curriculum standards are generated from the FAA and the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Career and Technological Education. With classes held at Pellston, a real working airport, students also get first-hand experience in fast-moving aviation career fields. Six of the 11 current students are pursuing piloting, while five others are exploring other technical careers. Anna VarnHagen, current aviation class student and Civil Air Patrol cadet, recently flew solo in an aircraft, flying by herself only months after entering the program. Five other students are waiting in the wings to repeat the same feat soon.
According to industry and U.S. government statistics, through 2030 commercial airline pilot hiring should grow 13%, with mechanics at 6% and flight attendants at 21%. Collectively, that totals close to 50,000 well-paying jobs in the next 8-10 years.
The local aviation community is rallying its support for the program, said Gus Serra, chairman of the Char-Em ISD Aviation Advisory Committee. “We have a number of programs and community aviation groups that play important roles in developing our young people’s interest in aviation, which can ultimately lead to helping solve the airline worker shortage,” Serra said.
He pointed to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the Civil Air Patrol in particular as piquing children’s interest in flight. Through the EAA, 200 local children receive free airplane rides every year in Pellston, Boyne City, Harbor Springs and Mackinac Island. “For many, this is their first flight ever,” Serra noted, “and it might even be the spark that launches a career.”
Students interested in flying who cannot fit the aviation program into their high school schedules can find mentors with the Civil Air Patrol who teach leadership, character development and aerospace education to young adults, Serra added.
To learn more about the Aviation Science and Technology course, visit www.charemisdcareertech.org. Char-Em ISD’s Career and Technical Education Department offers 20 CTE programs throughout Charlevoix, Emmet and northern Antrim counties. Programs are open to any student in any district; high school counselors can provide enrollment information.
– Gustavo (Gus) Serra, Char-Em ISD Aviation Advisory Committee Chairman; Experimental Aircraft Association, Civil Air Patrol member, contributed to this article
Airline industry shortages growing larger
- U.S. shortage of 15,000 certified aircraft maintenance technicians expected by 2027.
- The current median age of aviation maintenance workers is 51 years old with 27% over age 64.
- World’s fleet of aircraft is projected to increase by 40% over the next decade.
- Over the next 20 years there will be the need for: 602,000 new commercial pilots, 610,000 maintenance technicians, and 899,000 cabin crew.
(Sources: Aviation Technician Education Council Pipeline Report)Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook 2022-41)
About the Civil Airport Patrol, local flight clubs
Anna VarnHagen, current aviation class student who recently flew solo, is also a member of the Civil Air Patrol. The CAP, Squadron MI-031, is the local organization that was started two years ago. The CAP is a United States Air Force auxiliary program that trains pilots to respond to local and national emergencies, conducts search and rescue missions, offers a youth (12-18 years old) leadership program, and is also tasked by Congress to manage and assist with aerospace education. The MI-031 Squadron currently consists of one airplane, 12 cadets, and 12 adult members. CAP members are available to speak to groups or classrooms about aviation topics. Interested educators can also learn more through the CAP AEM (Aerospace Education Member for K-12) and ACE (Aerospace Connections in Education for K-6). Visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com/programs/aerospace-education/for-educators
to learn more, or call (989) 640-2181.
To learn more about the EAA described in the article, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gus Serra also mentioned there are social flying clubs in the area that are open to students and adults interested in flying. The Charlevoix Flying Club, based out of Harbor Springs, and the High Flight Aero Club, based out of Pellston Regional Airport, are only available to members. High Flight Aero Club: Contact Serra at (970) 333-1181; Charlevoix Flying Club, contact Craig Lively, (231) 838-7481.
Photo caption, top of page:
Duane Enos, Anna VarnHagen and her instructor, Tom Palmer, stand in front of the airplane that Anna just soloed.