TAMPA, Fla. — Students in Tampa got the opportunity of a lifetime when they soared above 1,000 feet and flew for themselves as part of a school program. Flight instructors say getting younger people into aviation is critical to help address a pilot shortage.
“My first time I was a front seat pilot. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” said Mykera Pedroso, a senior at Jefferson High School.
A group of Jefferson High School students, part of either Air Force JROTC or a dual enrollment program with Embry Riddle, got a chance to take control of planes during orientation flights at Tampa Executive Airport Thursday morning.
“Today will be my first time flying,” said junior Cidmagely Rosario. “I am very excited. I could barely sleep last night, but I’m also kind of scared being it’s my first time doing this.”
Instructors were with students every step of the way, while also handling takeoff and landing. Retired Air Force officer Larry Fernald says there’s going to be a shortage of pilots down the road, which he explains is already manifesting itself.
“We need to keep the chain, the supply chain going. We need to train the younger folks, get them interested in aviation, and work their way up,” said Fernald, who is also an orientation pilot.
“When you look at the aviation industry today as a whole, the top five airlines are going to have 42 percent of their pilots retiring in the next five years,” said Darren Spencer, the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor at Jefferson High School’s Air Force JROTC program. “In addition to that over the next decade, the industry is expecting a 13 percent growth in the demand for pilots.”
With that growing demand comes chances for real-world experience to prepare students to help fill the gap.
“I’ve had it more than once where a person’s never been on an airplane, and they just get addicted to it after that,” said Spencer.
Instructors hope giving opportunities to young students will help spark the next generation of pilots.
“It’s fun flying with them,” said Fernald. “It’s fun watching the sparkle in their eyes get bigger and bigger as we fly, and we really hope a lot of them continue on in aviation.”