Lakeland Aero Club: Where the Student Pilots Run the Show

Collaborative effort aims to teach local students to fly and more.

Lakeland Aero Club

Lakeland Aero Club

** Members of the newly formed Lakeland Aero
Club pose with celebrity guest Craig Fuller,
president and CEO of AOPA.**
Jessica Seaman

What’s the biggest hurdle to getting young people involved in aviation? Some might say that it’s the money; others might offer that it’s the lack of exposure to aviation or the lack of active involvement in the activity. In any of these cases, a new endeavor, the Lakeland Aero Club, starting up in Central Florida aims to answer those questions and more. The club was started by a group of interested pilots and other aviation supporters headed by Gulf Coast Avionics’ Rick Garcia with the primary intention of helping young aviation-minded adults get their ticket. The concept goes beyond training, however, seeking to immerse the young adults in the club not only in flying but in running a business.

The club, located on the Sun 'n Fun grounds of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, started up last month with express intention of helping students at Central Florida Aerospace Academy get their Sport Pilot or Private Pilot certificate, though any student in Polk County is eligible for membership. If funding the training is an obstacle, and for many of these students it is, students can apply for a grant from the James C. Ray scholarship fund, which, if awarded, can pay as much as three-quarters of the cost of flight training.

The club goes beyond the normal flight training experience, as its members are given the reins, acting as board members and working with experienced aviation hands to do the day-to-day work of operating the club, an experience that can’t help but pay dividends in the sky and in other walks of life. Thirteen of the board members plan to attend AirVenture later this summer, another experience that’s sure to open a few eyes to the potential in aviation.