The aviation industry isn’t just about flying planes.
There’s an entire back end of the operation that needs to happen before a plane can take off and glide into the sky. To get passengers from point A to point B safely, there are a lot of moving parts — and to work those moving parts requires a lot of different people.
Those people have jobs that range from pilot to air traffic controller to engineer to maintenance to the emergency medical services on hand at any airport.
In Ventura County, there is a booming aviation industry. With three airports in the county, several companies dealing with drones and Naval Base Ventura County there are plenty of different avenues one can take to get into the field — a point many professionals tried to underscore to students at the recent Aviation Career Day at Camarillo Airport.
“Aviation is so much more than just airplanes,” said William Broadwell, an aviation communications specialist working in the control tower at Oxnard Airport. “It’s more than pilots. There are the mechanics, the researchers, the maintenance crews. Less than half of the industry is actually just pilots and planes. You got to think, everything moves and everything needs a way to move.”
Broadwell has been in the industry for 40 years — an accomplishment that made a lot of high school and middle school students at Aviation Day gasp.
“The same job gets me excited every day,” Broadwell told students. “There’s so much more out there, and it’s different every day.”
Students got the chance to visit more than 15 booths staffed by different aviation and aerospace professionals in the county and ask questions about their careers paths. Each booth offered opportunities for students to get involved and get a foot in the door of the industry.
“I try and convey to them it’s truly important to get good grades and apply for internships. There are a lot of pathways to building a great resume,” said Rene Holland with NASA human resources. Holland said NASA offers high school students the chance to intern with the company every year.
Erika Ames is a pilot in training and currently a customer service representative for Sun Air Jets in Camarillo. Sun Air Jets provides private jet services, including aircraft management and jet maintenance. Ames said she got her love of flying and planes from her father.
“When I was a kid I remember going to air shows and just loved it,” Ames said. “One day my dad said ‘Let’s put you in a plane,’ and that was that.”
Ames told her story to students as they came to the booth for lanyards and candy. Her love of the industry and flying was evident with the way her face lit up when talking to students, something the students took note of. She told students she wanted to stay connected to the industry while working to get her pilot’s license.
At aviation day, students made their ways to all the booths — and learned about organizations and groups they didn’t know existed. For some, the day solidified what they already knew: they wanted to be in aviation.
“I want to go in the Air Force even more now,” said Dajanae Talbert, a senior at Frontier High School. “You get to do crazy stuff like jump out of planes. Maybe I’ll fly planes too and mix it up.”
Wilfrido Lopez, a junior at Frontier High School, said he wanted to join the Air Force, too. Something he was already thinking about before the career day.
“I didn’t know there were other things you could do,” Lopez said. “It’s cool, but I still want to go into the Air Force.”
But Aviation Day isn’t the only place where students can get a taste of the industry. Oxnard High School has an aviation academy and the county office of education has an unmanned aerial systems class serving interested students.
The goal of both programs is to get students real-world, hands-on experience in the aviation industry — whether that be through operating drones or learning engineering principles needed to work on planes.
“What we decided to do with the class is to allow them the opportunity to obtain a professional FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) certification and get project-based learning,” said Todd Van Epps, an instructor with Ventura County Office of Education for the unmanned aerial systems class. “The goal is for them to walk out of the classroom and have the experience to go on to college or to get a job in the industry.”
The class has been running out of the county office of education for three years. This marks the fourth class. There are 16 juniors and seniors in the class from across the county, Van Epps said. Those students are working on their certification exam now but are gearing up for a project at Point Mugu where they’ll be tracking an endangered species and using unmanned aerial vehicles and infrared technology to see where the animals are.
“Some of the students who have gone through the class have gone on to work with UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) companies in the county,” Van Epps said.
Nick Brandly, a senior at Foothill Tech High School and student of the county’s class, said he’s always had an interest in aviation and the aviation industry and this class was a way for him to get his foot in the door.
“I used to watch planes with my dad. We used to go to the airport and watch them land and take off,” Brandly said. “I was always fascinated by these huge flying things, how things fly and what made them fly. (This class) is kind of a different kind of flying.”
Brandly said he joined the class to learn more about drones, hoping one day to build one of his own. He said he’s not sure of his post-secondary plan just yet but is considering a career in the aviation industry.
“I definitely want to go to college, maybe I’ll go to a place that has a really nice aerospace program or an engineering school,” Brandly said.
At Oxnard High School students can join the aviation academy where they can learn about engineering, 3-D design and spend time at the Camarillo Airport.
“The goal is to get them college ready, or career ready,” said Andrew Mostawa, the aviation academy coordinator. “My goal is to show them aviation is a way for them to be able to do something when they graduate from high school. There are all kinds of people in the aviation industry.”
There are 45 kids in Mostawa’s freshman academy — a sign, he said, that interest in the industry is growing. The academy system is a way for the school to organize students by interest — kind of like a major — and get them real-world experience before leaving high school.
“I didn’t want to turn away any interested kids,” Mostawa said. “We want everyone to have a chance to do what they want and show them opportunities available to them.”
Marcus Holm is a student in the aviation academy and said he sought it out to learn more about aviation and engineering — two of his passions.
“We get to work on a lot of cool projects,” Holm said. “We’re doing things that are preparing me for my future. I definitely want to do something with aviation or engineering.”