At the first Flight Camp offered at American Aviation, 25 campers last week were introduced to the field of aviation and its different career options.
Jimmy Lodato said he hopes to keep the campers’ passion for aviation alive by helping to bring an aerospace program to Hernando County secondary school students. In collaboration with community members and business partners, an aviation program for ninth- and 10th-graders will launch when the first bell rings on Aug. 18.
“We have been working on this for eight months,” Lodato said.
The Aerospace Technology CTE (Career and Technical Education) program will allow students to dual-enroll. They will receive a Federal Aviation Administration Ground School Certification after completing 35 hours of classroom instruction. If they add an additional 40 hours of flying instruction, those same students also can earn a private pilot’s license.
“Right out of high school, this will enable (students) to obtain employment in the field of airplane mechanics, earning anywhere between $35,000 and $50,000 a year right out of high school,” Lodato said.
Taking that background to college and obtaining a pilot’s license would put them in the field of navigation and technology, Lodato said.
The program, he explained, is a collaboration of entities including Corporate Jet Solutions, Dyenamic Aviation Services and the Hernando County public school system. “We presented it to the school board,” Lodato said, “and all the school board staff worked on this program. They unanimously approved it.”
A survey was conducted including local ninth- and 10th-graders to determine interest. The program was overwhelmingly embraced, with 65 students committing to the program. Lodato said it will expand as interest warrants.
There is no better time to capture that interest, Lodato said. The aviation industry is facing a national shortage of pilots, navigators and tech support specialists in the next five to 15 years due to the retirement of people now in the workforce, he said, rendering an estimated 100,000 job opportunities.
“This is a really golden opportunity for our students to enter the field prepared and qualified after graduation,” he said.
Once the dual-enrollment program is operating, the next significant goal is to find a location that is central to all Hernando County students. It temporarily will be housed at Nature Coast Technical High School.
“We have a proposal to create an actual aviation center at the airport,” Lodato said. The program might operate from its own facility by next school year.
“Students will attend their regular school for several hours,” Lodato said. “And then they will go to the aviation center facility right at the airport.”
The program is modeled after one in Polk County under the direction of John Smart, Lodato said. That aviation school is in the “Sun and Fun” area near Lakeland and is held in conjunction with a high school. “It is extremely successful,” Lodato said.
Students interested in dual-enrolling in the program should contact Eric Williams, Hernando County School Board public information officer, at (352) 346-7279.
It is important to provide viable career options for local students that will keep them goal-focused and striving for success, Lodato said: “We have a high revolving door and a high percentage of children dropping out of school. This is because they don’t know where to go. Nothing excites them. We have to excite them.”
Aerospace and aviation offer intriguing possibilities. “The sky is the limit,” Lodato said.