Where Are the Youth in Aviation?
I’ll admit, I’m currently in my mid-20’s and before my experience here with VoyagerFBO I had believed that the world of private aviation was out of reach for people like me. Yet, shortly after beginning my time here I found myself in the cockpit of a Piper Seneca on a morning flight to New York for a business meeting and was still home in time for dinner.
I guess you could say I “caught the bug” on that flight, and it was only because our CEO, David, is an aviation enthusiast kind enough to have flown us out there himself instead of having me take the expected six-hour drive. Now, I have plans to obtain my pilots license and the share that experience with others, though owning my own aircraft may be a little out of reach for the time being.
That morning, before departure, I met David at a local FBO operating in the regional airport a town over from where I grew up. This was a place that is well known but was always shrouded in mystery, so freely walking the grounds as an adult was a satisfying moment for me.
Whenever I would ask my parents about it when we would drive past the cemetery overlooking the runway they would just tell me to never go down there, or my dad would laugh about how when he was a kid he would race his car down the strip.
Despite there warnings, as an adult, I was able to introduce myself to the airport manager and have a lengthy conversation with a customer service rep from one of the FBO’s about their operation. Soon after, David and I were going through out pre-flight preparations and in the air without a problem.
The experience for me was like the first time you go to an amusement park or feel some type of speed-induced thrill that really makes you wake up inside. It’s that moment where something awakens, and you know you found something you love doing.
We need more of that, and I found myself wishing I discovered this sooner.
I think this highlights part of the issue with the decline in young pilots in the aviation industry. While I always had an interest and love for commercial flights, I was taught that private flights or the ability to be a pilot was out of reach for the non-military and non-wealthy.
Oh, I was wrong.
This may change depending on the region and the culture its people foster, of course, but there wasn’t a focus or even a hint toward the aviation industry from any of my advisers, job fairs, or school trips. It appeared the only people who were able to be involved in aviation were those who grew up with it, aging ex-military, and those who traveled privately for business.
That perception needs to be changed, and the aviation industry needs to invest an interest in the next generation of pilots, managers, and air frame mechanics else once our aging generation hangs it up we will not have anyone to take the yoke.
AOPA understands this, having recently awarded twenty-two high school students around the country a $5,000 scholarship through their You Can Fly initiative. The program is guided to expose prospective pilots to the industry and help them obtain their solo or private license within the year. The students were asked a series of questions, but the ones who were chosen all had a similar focus; to inspire others to follow their flight path.
While I am happy that a major organization like AOPA is giving the youth the attention they deserve, I believe there needs to be a larger push from regional airports to partner with local school systems through the creation of aviation clubs. Not only could these clubs provide the networking and knowledge these students need to say land a line-crew position over their summer break, but the experience could foster a lifelong love for aviation.
A regional airport that sets up open house “airport days” and invites the local youth to explore the FBO’s, hangars, and choice aircraft can breathe life into the future of this industry.
For me, all it took was one person to finally take me aside and show me the world of private aviation, after that I was hooked, and I believe that is a similar experience for most. It appears most people are introduced to aviation through a friend that offered them a scenic flight, a parent that works at an FBO, or because their company happens to charter private business flights.
If we widen the scope of opportunity and educate our youth we will be able to show them that a career in aviation is a reality, and that their passion to take to the skies is an obtainable dream.