There was a time when taking Washoe County students to the Air Races as a field trip didn’t inspire much of a learning experience, Pathways to Aviation executive director Pete Parker says.
But with a few changes, 3,100 students attended the races last year and took a class, exploring concepts in rocketry, space exploration, drones and aircraft, and they’re becoming more intrigued with the idea of aviation in general.
That’s the major push Pathways to Aviation, the former Reno Air Racing Foundation, is making after releasing its strategic objectives this week, among which is its intention to foster education programs and spark interest among Nevada students to pursue careers in aviation and aerospace industry.
The nonprofit said in a statement Wednesday the average age of employees working for airlines, airport operations, aircraft engine and parts manufacturing is on the rise.
“We hope to attract aviation related industry companies to relocate to Nevada and we want to serve as the voice and source of all aviation in Nevada,” Eric Henry, president of Pathways to Aviation’s board of directors, said in the statement. “The aviation industry is looking for a professional workforce in our state and we intend to chart a course for kids grade six through college and develop a workforce to meet the demands of the aviation industry in Nevada.”
In the statement, Pathways According to the FAA, Nevada has 30 public-use airports that provide more than 70,000 jobs and generate $80 million in payroll with more than 3,000 active general aviation aircraft and 6,000 pilots. Five commercial airports contribute $8 billion in payroll and a total economic impact of more than $27 billion.
Civil aviation contributes to 12.1 percent of the state’s gross domestic product and 14.1 percent of all jobs in the state.
The aviation industry is made up of airline operations, airport operations, component and aircraft engine and parts manufacturing, maintenance and parts suppliers. Pathways hopes to build up its pool of Nevada workers starting with providing access to quality education within its schools.
“The whole purpose of putting curriculum in the school district is to make sure that it’s tied to the right standards,” Parker said Thursday. “This year, I came back to the board and said we killed our goals last year, but we need to take it a step further. … We need to work on workforce development.”
Parker said with a documented shortage of pilots within the next seven to 10 years, a lack of qualified mechanics, it’s important to be proactive now in training up students now and helping to make aviation a more attractive industry in the Silver State.
“Not every kid’s going to go into aviation, but maybe they’ll go into manufacturing and maybe the spark was an introduction into aviation,” Parker said. “Maybe it wasn’t algebra or it wasn’t the book, but it was learning about flight and rocketry and the trigonometry and geometry behind it all so they can say, ‘Wow, I saw that rocket shoot out and I measured it,’ and now they’ve applied it. There’s something way beyond a book and maybe that’s the trigger a student needs, and if we can excite one student to succeed, then we’ve done our job.”
To address the need for more aviators and aeronauts in Nevada, Pathways will host a speakers forum from 6 to 9 p.m. April 13 at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Joe Crowley Student Union in the Milt Glick Ballroom.
The event’s keynote speaker will be Capt. Kevin “Nix” Mannix, retired from the U.S. Navy. Mannix is a former director of training in the Navy’s Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center and he was the commanding officer and flight leader of the Blue Angels from 2006 to 2008.
Parker said the intent is to reach out to two primary audiences: anyone already working in the industry or owns aircraft and anyone who’s an enthusiast interested in aviation and wants to learn how to fly. Participants will have an opportunity to meet aviation leaders and witness the unveiling of Pathways’ strategies to improve upon aviation education, industry and workforce development in Nevada and learn about college scholarships.
“We will be sourcing funds and awarding scholarships to students attending four-year, two-year and specialty instruction,” Pete Parker, executive director of Pathways, said in the statement. “We will be pursuing aviation, flight, avionics, technology, airframe and aerospace education in every school in Nevada.”