Aviation High Schools Prep the Next Generation

This student is working on basic piloting skills in the
flight simulation room with a few of his classmates.
Students at CFAA can actually learn to fly an airplane
before they graduate.
Amy Laboda

As a flight instructor, parents often ask me how they should encourage their children who show interest in aviation. My favorite answer? Send them to an aviation-focused school. These schools are located in every corner of the nation, and they are fee free, public education institutions.

They aren't necessarily new, either. Aviation High School in Long Island City, New York, is 80 years young, and it was one of the first to pump out engineers, airframe and power-plant mechanics, and pilots for the then-nascent aviation industry. Today the school is a juggernaut of the genre, delivering graduates with skills that can be put right to work at the triad of major airports in the New York City area and sending 90 percent of its students to collegiate aviation programs.

"We are the oldest and largest aviation high school, with 2,100 students enrolled," says Mario Cotumaccio, an assistant principal at the school.

Principal Deno Charalambous, a school alumnus, chimes in, "We are also one of the top schools academically in our state despite the fact that 65 percent of our students come from homes below the poverty level and 90 percent are first-generation Americans."

"Half of our graduating class each year has earned one or more FAA certifications in high school. They intern at major airlines in the New York area," Cotumaccio was quick to fill in. "These kids graduate ready to work and earn their way through college."

You don't need to live in New York City to attend an aviation-specialized public high school. There's one in Tukwila, Washington; Oakland and Riverside, California; and even Lakeland, Florida.

"We've developed a world-class educational complex specializing in aviation in just seven years," smiles John Leenhouts, president and CEO of Sun 'n Fun, a major benefactor of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy (CFAA) located in Lakeland, Florida. "To date, we've had 41 students become pilots out of our program. We are now pumping out two pilots a month," Leenhouts says. The students fly airplanes supplied by the Lakeland Aero Club and maintained by the students in the A&P and avionics maintenance programs at the school.

Jonathan Wilhite, a senior at CFAA, says, "The teachers here motivate you to start thinking about what you want to do in life."

Graduates of CFAA continue their education at both public and private colleges and universities. Many matriculate as sophomores through dual enrollment, saving big bucks on tuition. Best of all, Sun 'n Fun Foundation provides tuition scholarships for college.

The students in Mr. Roy's Avionics class at CFAA are working on creating the circuitry for an operable radio.|

Does an aviation high school really create new blood in aviation? The numbers say yes. CFAA counts commuter pilots and full-time A&Ps among its graduates. And New York's Aviation High? Its contributions to the industry through 80 years are too numerous to count.

Want to know more about aviation high schools around the U.S.? The University Aviation Association (www.uaa.aero) can help you out. Check your own public school system. There may be an aviation high school closer than you'd think.

Amy Laboda began flying in 1978 and is a flight instructor, with credentials that range from a gyroplane rating to an airline transport pilot certificate.

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