MISSOULA - Need a job? How about one in aviation?
Numbers provided to MTN News by Boeing show that over the next 20 years there will be a demand for 128,000 new pilots, 134,000 new aviation technicians and 173,000 new cabin crew positions in the US alone.
One management consulting firm estimates the industry is facing a deficit of about 8,000 pilots — 11% of the total workforce — and says the shortfall could reach 30,000 pilots by 2025.
Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration launched the Be ATC program in June, which is a new campaign to hire the next generation of air traffic controllers.
But you can’t just pluck airline professionals out of thin air.
That’s why an engineering class at Sentinel High School is introducing young minds to the world of aeronautics where the career possibilities are sky high.
It's not something high school students see every day, but a Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter recently landed at Sentinel. The chopper swooped in for the students in Joe Yakawich’s Aeronautical Engineering class.
The students had the opportunity to see the helicopter up close and talk to the pilots. But it was more than just show and tell because the kids are learning how — and why — things fly.
"I try to get the kids to lift their heads up off the ground and actually look around themselves and start questioning what’s going on, and build some curiosity in just this phenomenon of flight,” Yakawich said.
This marks only the second school year of aeronautical engineering at Sentinel.
It's the only program of its kind in Missoula and is taught with the guidance of the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which is part of a nationwide STEM program that can be found in almost 400 schools across the nation with 12,000 students participating.
Most of the students are either taking — or have completed — every engineering course that Sentinel High School has to offer. The students who are taking part in the Aeronautical Engineering class say the program is unique.
“It’s very fun. It is different. I feel like many of my classmates have previous knowledge of aeronautics, planes, and flight. And I did not have that much knowledge," said junior Aviv Guscio. "But it’s great to be in an environment where everyone is engaged and excited to learn."
“‘it’s a growth on something we already learned about; lift and gravity. But it’s definitely a lot different,” junior Claire Powell added. “I’m definitely enjoying it; something way different than what I've ever learned.”
The challenge on the day we stopped by was for the students to create a wing that descends slowly — and both Claire and Aviv nailed it.
"Coming up with solutions to unique problems with certain constraints is just something I'm super interested in,” Claire noted. “And it’s kind of a continuation of other engineering classes I already took."
A theme among the students that we talked with that emerged was that the engineering class is not like the others offered at Sentinel High School.
"We're doing a lot more hands-on stuff, building. Other classes I'm in — I'm in Civil Engineering and Architecture — and we're just kind of doing the old stuff,” said junior Jarett Houppert. “But here we're building. We've done like three design challenges so far. It's pretty fun, too."
"This class is actually a part of a series where you can start gaining your pilot's license,” senior Bennett Wright said. “I've looked into that because it would be amazing and there's so much you can do with your pilot's license, whether that's commercial or cargo or even being an engineer for planes, too."
AOPA believes the data shows there is no better time than now for schools to build programs that prepare students for careers as pilots, drone pilots, engineers, aviation maintenance technicians, and other aerospace STEM professionals.
The program is one way that students can learn that the opportunities exist.
"Initially, I asked the kids, ‘who is even interested in this stuff?’ And I'll get 20% say, ‘eh.’ But by the end of the year, it's more than half or better of those who have become somewhat interested in it all, Yakawich explained.
Yakawich added that at least two former students are now licensed pilots and he’s hoping this program attracts interest from students from other schools as a stepping stone to a career in the air.
The Sentinel High School students will have an opportunity to help rebuild an airplane later in the year and we'll tag along to see how their interest in aviation is progressing.