Norfolk can win by lifting up the most vulnerable and underserved when it provides pathways into aviation. Recent events like ‘Norfolk Can Fly’ show that the Norfolk community has a curiosity backed by industry support and ready to take flight.
Educational institutions and the flying community should work to close the achievement gap by teaching aviation in Norfolk Public Schools starting next school year.
Several misfortunes have plagued the aviation industry: an extreme shortage of pilots and personnel, economic turbulence and the resulting dangers of climate change.
Some might say the idea of government support for the airline industry tastes worse than airplane food to some, especially when the demographics of the industry can make anyone sick.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 93.7% of commercial pilots are white and 92.5% are male. Only 7% of professional pilots are women and only 1% are black women.
Norfolk can be part of the solution to aviation’s staffing and diversity problem if it builds an education pipeline to connect the community to Norfolk International Airport.
According to economic studies, aviation in Virginia pays 146,660 of our neighbors $7.7 billion in wages annually. These studies show that aviation jobs pay better and provide better outcomes for these workers.
But the cost of training can be discriminatory and airports are not necessarily accessible to working families.
Only 16 of Virginia’s 65 airports are in counties with African American populations above 25%; only six of these airports are in majority minority areas. The location of Norfolk International Airport makes it essential in tackling unequal access to aviation.
In nearby Newport News, students at Denbigh High School Aviation Academy built an airplane at their school: a Vans Aircraft RV-12. This project helped teach students career skills, piloting and engineering.
Students had the opportunity to explore an RV-12 on display at “Norfolk Can Fly”. There is no reason to limit the student experience with this aircraft to an annual event when our airport and public school system will benefit from aviation education.
The biggest thing we saw at “Norfolk Can Fly” was the smiles of students looking skyward and captivated by dreams of their potential in the clouds on wings they could build, maintain and steal.
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We have a responsibility to reward this newfound hope and ambition with a structured program that extends beyond ‘Norfolk Can Fly’ and is located outside the airport perimeter fence.
Organizations such as the Virginia Department of Aviation and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association offer funding and an aviation-based STEM curriculum that our teachers can use to institutionalize aviation opportunities for our community.
Aviation education connects STEM elements and the SOL-related curriculum. Aviation education is an excellent wingman for engaging math, science, and technology while maximizing relevance outside of the classroom.
Teaching aviation in public classrooms lowers costs for students to enter the industry. When schools adopt aviation curricula, they play a vital role in flight training, reducing the cost and distance to an aviation career path.
Norfolk Airport has grown tremendously over the past few years, an increase that we need to share with the community. Airlines, flight schools and aviation companies are all facing labor shortages. Public education can turn shortages into community and business opportunities.
The commonwealth is on its way to becoming the best state for aviation if it unlocks the solution to the aviation labor shortage. Norfolk can play a vital role in lowering the cost of training and providing a viable public education option for aviation workforce development.
Bonita Antoine is a Norfolk resident, student pilot, former FAA engineer, and trustee of the College of Engineering and Technology at Virginia State University. Andrew Crider, of Richmond, is a pilot and government solutions strategist for Monarch Group. He previously served in the Virginia Department of Aviation.