NBAA Partners With Aviation Pioneer to Build Training Center

Aviation pioneer Barrington Irving is partnering with NBAA and other industry stakeholders to build an aviation workforce training Center in Miami.

Barrington Irving is partnering with NBAA and other industry stakeholders to build an aviation workforce training Center in Miami. [Courtesy Michael Wildes]

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is partnering with a Florida-based aviation educational company and other industry stakeholders to launch a new training program that aims to develop a future business aviation workforce, it announced Tuesday afternoon at its Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Orlando, Florida.

The training center, which is spearheaded by former earthrounder pilot Barrington Irving, will be located at Miami-Opa-locka Executive Airport (OPF) and be used to train local, national, and international students in professional and technical aviation vocations. 

In 2007, Jamaican-born Irving became the first and only African-American pilot to fly around the world solo when he embarked on a 97-day flight in a Columbia 400 aircraft. At the time, he was also the youngest person to do so—a feat that earned him recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records

The training center will aim to increase the number of young professionals in the business aviation industry, with an initial focus on maintenance-related careers. The initiative's collaborators include Irving's Flying Classroom educational company, which provides a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum for students, and Experience Aviation STEM non-profit. Other industry partners include NBAA, Miami-Dade County Vice Chair Oliver Gilbert, III, Miami-Dade Aviation Department, Atlantic Aviation, and Bombardier.

"Our goal is simple—we want to build the business aviation talent pipeline," Irving said in a statement.

The announcement comes as the industry increasingly faces workforce pressures. In a recent report, Boeing (NYSE: BA) estimated that the global aviation industry needs to recruit, train, and hire more than 610,000 maintenance technicians by 2041.

Expressing strong support for the initiative, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen called the project a one-of-a-kind training center. 

NBAA, which has been a longstanding collaborator with Irving and awarded him the 2019 NBAA American Spirit Award Winner for his contribution to the industry, said in a statement that the project's partners plan to enroll 100 students in South Florida by the end of next year.

When Bolen took to the stage briefly to introduce Irving to the audience Tuesday, he called the moment the "best part of the show." 

'Transforming Lives’

"A long time ago, a guy named Barrington had a dream about flying around the world, and that dream certainly inspired a segment of the industry known as business aviation," Bolen said. "What Barrington did transcend aviation, and what he's doing is transforming lives."

In 2005, Irving launched Experience Aviation, a non-profit based at the Opa-locka Executive Airport, to use aviation to build students' skills and interest in STEM careers through a series of creative challenges. Students, for example, were challenged to build an airplane from scratch, with Irving promising to fly and keeping his word if they were successful.

Irving later launched Flying Classroom in 2013 as a platform to invest, inspire and empower young professionals in STEM+ and aviation careers. The organization delivers curriculum through more than 160+ virtual and interactive lessons to educate young professionals about aviation-related careers. 

In 2019, Flying Classroom partnered with Bombardier, Inc. to launch The Flying Classroom Bombardier Academy to familiarize college students, military veterans, and technical school students with business aviation careers in maintenance. Earlier this year, during the NBAA-Regional Forum in Opa-locka, the Academy graduated its first 30 students who received job offers for various maintenance-related positions at Bombardier.

"We must cultivate talent around business aviation, train for business aviation, and hire for business aviation," Irving said after joining Bolen on stage.

According to NBAA, Irving's Flying Classroom and Experience Aviation has led to more than 200 direct student hires in business aviation. It has managed to do so by hosting collaborative community events around the country at FBOs like Atlantic Aviation, backed by various recruitment initiatives.

Building a Business Aviation Talent Pipeline

The training center will offer innovative programs and training approaches, along with specialized technical and professional certifications, and will incorporate resources provided by NBAA for enrolled students. Both Bolen and Irving said more details would be available at the upcoming NBAA-regional forum at Opa Locka in February 2023.

The project promises to be symbolic. Irving launched his round-the-world flight from the airport, and city officials later renamed a street after him.

Miami-Dade city official Gilbert has already expressed support for Irving's expanded local presence.

"I am extremely excited about the launch of this phenomenal program; training our future pilots, engineers, technicians, and business leaders in the aviation industry," Gilbert said. "It has been an honor to work with a trailblazer like Captain Irving to bring this to life. The aviation sector is growing rapidly, and with Urban Air Mobility technology on the horizon, we must be innovative and prepare for what's to come. This training facility will position the youth in our community to take full advantage of all the opportunities that the aviation industry has to offer."

Michael Wildes holds a master’s degree in Logistics & Supply Chain Management, and a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science, both from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Previously, he worked at the university’s flight department as a Flight Check Airman, Assistant Training Manager, and Quality Assurance Mentor. He holds MEI, CFI & CFII ratings. Follow Michael on Twitter @Captainwildes.

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