Until Wednesday, Caran Novack, a senior at Holcomb High School, had planned to become a trauma nurse, most likely at a hospital.
But thanks to a school trip to the Garden City Regional Airport, she now has her eyes on the sky.
“I was talking to the lady who was flying on Eagle Med and it just seems like something that would be really interesting, and it definitely ties into the kind of career I want to have,” Novack said.
Novack was with a group of sophomores, juniors and seniors from Holcomb High School’s JAG program, Jobs for America’s Graduates, who came to the airport Wednesday to learn about various aviation careers as part of the Fly Kansas Tour.
Up to two dozen airplanes taking part in the Fly Kansas tour were scheduled to land at the GCRA Wednesday morning, but were grounded in Liberal by heavy fog.
But two representatives from the tour drove to the airport from Liberal to share aviation career opportunities with students.
Brian Youngers, president of the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education, also known as the Fly Kansas Foundation, told the JAG students that the aviation industry is facing a shortage in airline pilots that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
“There’s always a shortage of pilots, and you guys are the perfect age to learn,” Youngers said. “All those older pilots who learned to fly in the Vietnam War are all getting ready to retire now and there’s not enough pilots coming in to take those spots. So it’s a great career opportunity where there’s definitely going to be openings in the field.”
He said there is also a growing need for airplane mechanics and engineers, and pointed out the Eagle Med airplane and Life Team helicopter as providing other potential aviation careers.
“Eagle Med and Life Team are right here in Garden City and they hire nurses to fly with them in the helicopter or airplane to go save lives wherever they are landing,” Youngers said.
Airport staff also gave students a tour of the airport, speaking to them about other types of aviation careers and the day-to-day operations at the airport.
Gathered in the five-story air traffic control tower overseeing the runways, Mike Scheiman, air traffic manager at GCRA, told students his main job was to keep everybody safe by directing both air and ground traffic at the airport.
“We make sure when an aircraft takes off or lands that he has a clear runway,” Scheiman said.
The job is ever changing, he said.
“It’s an easy job, it’s a fun job, it’s a great job. You get to see a lot of different things. It’s never the same — it’s always different,” Scheiman said.
Most of the airport’s traffic, he said, consists of corporate travelers stopping for fuel, but he also told students that some famous celebrities have been known to make stops at the GCRA, including John Travolta, Adam Sandler, and Harrison Ford.
“We don’t tell anyone when they’re here,” he said, laughing.
In addition to the passenger, UPS and FedEx planes that regularly use the airport, Scheiman said they also handle airplane diversions in cases of medical or mechanical emergencies.
He also said there are a number of military training operations that take place at the airport.
“We do a lot of military training here and we have aircraft in here like F18s, Ospreys, and F16s that come in and do approaches, practice landings and touch-and-go’s,” Scheiman said.
He said there are also slow days at the airport.
All of it appealed to Tripp Pool, a junior at Holcomb High School.
“I would like to work in the tower because you would be able to sit up there and do a whole lot of nothing plus have interesting days,” Pool said, admitting that if he had enough money, he would be a pilot.
Youngers said flying lessons can range from $5,000 to $10,000 but said there are an abundance of scholarships available.
“Anything in the aviation field — a flight nurse, mechanic, any of those things — would qualify for those scholarships,” Youngers said.
The Fly Kansas Air Tour was also scheduled to make stops in Colby and Hays Wednesday, weather permitting, followed by stops Thursday in Concordia, Junction City and Emporia.
On Saturday, the tour is scheduled to stop in Newton and participate in the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 88 fly-in at the Newton airport.