Inspiring youth and their dreams to take flight
Throughout my journey from a wide-eyed young boy to commercial pilot, I have not only seen and experienced what aviation has to offer young people, but noticed the lack of young people within aviation.
Why is it that there are so few young people learning to fly?
I believe the aviation industry is quite secluded and apart from ‘open days’ and air shows the majority of the general public are not exposed to aircraft and aviation other than during a commercial flight.
Since September 11 the industry has been reformed to suit the era we now find ourselves in. New security measures, whilst providing added safety, mean that we miss out on the simple things like allowing a child to visit the flight deck and although this may seem like only a small loss, for me it was just such a visit which sparked my passion for aviation. The security fences and entry requirements we now see at small general aviation airports, along with tighter regulations throughout the entire industry, means exposing our youth to aviation is becoming even harder.
As we are not in a position to change the way the industry has transformed we simply need to change with it.
The Young Eagles Program
In the United States the Experimental Aircraft Association developed the Young Eagles program.
“The Young Eagles program was launched in 1992 by EAA, the Experimental Aircraft Association, based in Oshkosh Wisconsin. Our mission is to provide a meaningful flight experience – free of charge – in a general aviation aircraft for young people primarily between the ages of 8 and 17.
Since the program began more than 1.5 million Young Eagles have flown under the auspices of the program. These flights have been provided through the generosity of more than 43,000 EAA member volunteer pilots”.
By May 2012 the Young Eagles program had flown just under 1.7 million young people between the ages of 8 and 17.
By offering this free flight, along with follow up information and resources for budding pilots, the program has successfully introduced youth into aviation.
As a result of this initiative we will see an ever growing number of commercial pilots with the ‘it all started with a Young Eagles flight’ story.
I would love to see a similar successful program in Australia.
The Sky is the Limit
While flying around on my own at age 15 I would often get asked ‘How is that even legal?’, ‘So you are trying to tell me you can fly a plane?’, ‘But you are only 15!’.
Even today with my work at Merimbula Air Services there are customers surprised to have such a young commercial pilot for their flight.
The need for information and education about the basic steps, requirements, learning ages, costs and options in regards to flight training is a must.
For those that have a desire to learn the information needs to be readily accessible and for those who have never considered that flying could be a reality for them, we need a way to prove its accessibility.
I feel that providing all the necessary information to school children in the first years of high school would enlighten them to the opportunities available and give them the knowledge to pursue aviation as a career path if they choose.
I have always known I would fly one day but it was a local newspaper article that alerted me to the early age at which I could begin to learn, not the Uncle I had in the industry. Why? Because I had not thought to ask the question... I just assumed.
It is important to highlight the fact that by learning to fly at a young age it is possible to become a fully licensed commercial pilot at the age of 18, therefore opening up a large range of opportunities as soon as high school has been completed.
Within Australia we have an excellent aviation industry and a range of flying schools, both recreational and general aviation and contrary to popular belief learning to fly is affordable, as I have shown by funding my initial flight training myself.
Unfortunately, regardless of how much our flight training industry has to offer, it is not reaching its full potential if young people do not know about it.