Flying Aero: AspenAERO paving the path for future pilots and engineers
Greg Roark isn’t afraid of a little rejection.
In fact, the AEROspace Alliance founder and CEO said the more he was “politely dismissed” by some in the aviation industry, the harder he fought to catch their attention.
“I spent years knocking on those corporate doors,” Roark said recently from his aviation classroom in the basement of the Aspen Middle School. “And I just kept on knocking.”
This year, it paid off.
Aspen’s AEROspace program was one of just 10 programs selected from a pool of 600 applicants to receive a grant from American Airlines as part of its flight education program, and Aspen was one of only two high school-based programs to be so honored.
“The Aspen AEROspace Alliance proposed the development and inter-district sharing of an aviation curriculum. They have been working with industry experts to create the best curriculum possible. We saw an enormous amount of potential in this program because of the ability to live stream and share knowledge between professional educators,” said Heather Bowers, manager of Pilot Career Recruiting for American Airlines. “The potential reach of this program is massive and could change lives.”
For Roark — who founded the locally based K-12 program in 2012 and is the man behind the newly introduced AERO EDUC8R Network that caught American Airlines’ attention — the potential to change lives is what this program has always been about.
“What we do is teach kids through aviation, real-world lessons,” he said. “Yes, we are training pilots and engineers, which there is a huge need for, but we are doing more than that.
“If a kid went through our whole program and said to me after graduation, ‘Mr. R., I think I’m actually going to be an art history major,’ I would be proud. And I would know that whichever college he or she was going to was going to be welcoming a student who knows the importance of commitment, perseverance, respect and honor.”
These four character traits are the mission of AspenAERO, which partners with Atlantic Aviation and Redbird Flight Simulations locally, according to Roark. The program begins with an after-school program for elementary school kids, and is followed up with in-classroom programs at the middle- and high school levels with two types of industry certification available: piloting and engineering. To date, the AEROspace program has graduated 23 pilots and has placed 11 students in engineering programs in colleges and universities across the country.
With the $25,000 grant from American Airlines, the plan is to solidify Aspen’s program in a way that it can be offered to school districts and students across the country over the next five years.
The need for such a program — which Roark has been touting since his first knock on those corporate doors — is real.
According to the 2017 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook, an industry forecast of personnel demand, some 637,000 new commercial airline pilots, 648,000 new maintenance technicians and 839,000 new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world’s fleet over the next 20 years.
Boeing goes on to state that “educational outreach and career pipeline programs will be essential to inspiring the next generation. … Early student engagement and defined aviation career paths will help expand the reach to new demographics.”
American Airlines’ Bowers agrees: “American Airlines aims to grow the pilot pool and inspire students to become professional pilots,” she said. “There has been a lot of talk in the aviation industry about an upcoming pilot shortage, which is already starting to affect other countries. American Airlines wants to ensure that they, along with its three regional subsidiaries (Envoy, PSA, and Piedmont) aren’t negatively impacted by this potential shortage.
“The AspenAERO proposal has the ability to introduce the professional pilot career path to lots of young people and inspire them to become pilots themselves.”
For the Aspen School District’s part, the aviation program is yet another way in which the district sets itself apart.
“It is important that school districts support programs like this one that prepares students for real-world careers and helps fill the need for a future generation of pilots and aerospace support specialists,” said superintendent John Maloy, noting that the program is privately funded through such entities as the Aspen Education Foundation, local businesses, grants and private contributions. “The Aspen School District is thrilled with this recognition and fully support Greg as he helps train those who have a passion for aerospace.”
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