The ongoing pilot shortage has energized the conversation about how to best fill the need for aviation professionals. Airlines are ramping up recruitment efforts, raising salaries, and even opening-up their own flight academies in the hopes of filling staffing gaps. While tapping into the existing pilot pool is important, some educational institutions are focused on cultivating a new generation of aviation professionals. The team at Alabama Aviation and Aerospace High School (AAHS) has taken on that challenge.
Hard Works Pays Off
AAHS is kicking off its inaugural school year with events for Alabama’s youth seeking careers in aeronautical fields.
After three years of planning, promotion, and hard work, the school officially received state approval in August 2021. As a new aviation-focused public charter school, it offers Birmingham-area students a college-focused education that combines the power of learning with the beauty of flight. Now, a year after gaining the state’s endorsement, the school opened its doors to its first group of students on August 22. AAHS is a free public charter school with student expenses limited to individual supplies, field trips, clubs, and other activities.
An Educator’s Dream Comes to Fruition
FLYING spoke with Ruben Morris, AAHS’s founder, who explained how the idea of launching the school came to life.
“When I was a child, I lived in East Birmingham, about a mile from the Birmingham Airport [KBHM],” he recalled. “I remember watching planes taking off on Sunday afternoons and wanting to be one of those pilots.”
Years passed, and as Morris puts it, his dream was “deferred,” but his passion for aviation and helping others never waned. He began his career as an educator and sought ways to inspire kids in underserved communities to pursue careers in aerospace.
Alabama is rich in aviation history, including the Wright brothers’ base in Montgomery—the location of the first civilian aviation school in the U.S. Established in 1910, the site eventually became what is now known as Maxwell Air Force Base.
Today, Alabama is a hub for aerospace, with the likes of Airbus, Boeing (NYSE: BA), and NASA operating sizable facilities in the north and south. However, Morris sensed that central Alabama lacked its own aeronautical presence. He also knew that when it comes to education, Alabama has been near the bottom of the country’s rankings for math and science. This motivated Morris to push his educational project forward.
STEM Curriculum Prepares the Next Generation
AAHS operates a regular school calendar (not year-round schooling) but offers a summer bridge program to qualifying students. The curriculum encompasses various STEM disciplines, including coding, robotics, and cyber security.
The school offers a college-preparatory core curriculum and dual enrollment with local colleges. Aviation and aerospace industry apprenticeships and internships help students integrate into their chosen careers.
Kickoff Celebrates a Promising Future
This week, AAHS held two days of inaugural events to celebrate its first cohort of students while also looking ahead to the future. On September 29, 100 youngsters had the opportunity to take discovery flights as part of the school’s Fall Fly-In at the Bessemer Airport (KEKY). Some AAHS partners chipped in, such as Republic Airline’s LIFT Academy and Legacy Flight Academy, a nonprofit organization that conducts character-based youth aviation programs that draw upon the legacy of the heroic Tuskegee Airmen.
The night before, AAHS celebrated “The Champions of Excellence Dinner,” a salute to the school’s opening and its inaugural classes of students. “Our founding 9th and 10th-graders are settling in at the beginning of the school year, and this event will celebrate our Champions of Excellence and their families,” Morris said. “Our Champions will also sign their Commitment to Excellence pledge and become official AAHS students during the evening.”
The dinner’s keynote speaker was Col. Al Niles Jr., a combat veteran and Bronze Star Medal recipient with more than 25 years of dedicated service in Army Aviation. Niles is also the chair of the AAHS Industry Advisory Board.
So, what does the future hold for AAHS? Morris’s operational flight plan includes having a permanent facility at the Bessemer Airport, which currently houses a temporary center. He plans to have a groundbreaking ceremony on the $20 million facility before the end of the year. FLYING will be sure to provide updates when that special event takes place.