Decades ago, they seemed too futuristic to be true. Today, they’re hovering just over the horizon, and when they do become a reality, the Piedmont-Triad will be at the forefront.
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“A fun fact is George Jensen’s birthday is actually Aug. 2022,” said Basil Yap, president of nonprofit AeroX, in a nod to the 1960’s sitcom The Jetsons. “So he was born in the future.”
While the flying cars we eventually experience will look quite different than the ones depicted in the animated series, they do closely resemble two rotor-based crafts the world has long and briefly been accustomed to. Think of a mix between helicopters and drones.
“We really are closer to flying cars than we think,” Yap added.
Where North Carolina – and the Piedmont-Triad specifically – comes into play begins with a recently announced partnership between AeroX, renowned aviation science and unmanned aircraft institution Elizabeth City State University, and Piedmont Flight Training, which is based at Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem.
“It’s huge for the Piedmont-Triad,” said Ignosis Management President Parrish Pedderick, who oversees Piedmont Flight Training.
As Pedderick explains, Smith Reynolds Airport offers features many flight schools are unable to offer such as a mixture of tower and ground control in addition to corporate flight traffic. With the agreement between AeroX, ECSU and PFT, students from the ten surrounding counties will be able to take courses online with training at the airport.
The real kicker, however, is the cost.
“That’s really exciting because the cost is so low, I think we’re going to get a lot interest,” Yap said.
Through the North Carolina Promise tuition plan, in-state students will be able to train to break into the air mobility workforce for a mere $500 a semester.
“The aviation sector is forecasted, just advanced air mobility–not even existing aviation –to be $1.5 trillion by 2040,” said David Mounts, managing partner of AeroX Ventures. “It’s going to be a massive industry.”
The degree offered by the program is the same four-year aviation degree offered in-person at ECSU. With an objective of expanding aviation education, strengthening and diversifying the aviation workforce and building autonomous urban aircraft infrastructure in North Carolina.
“When the first news release went out…I think we got more than ten phone calls in just one day,” said Dr. Kuldeep Rawat, dean of ECSU’s School of Science Aviation Health and Technology, referring to the program’s initial announcement.
As Mounts explained, the aviation sector has an average salary nearing $100,000 a year with careers tending to be sustainable while remaining local.
“This doesn’t mean just captains and commercial airlines,” he said. “This is throughout the industry.”
The key here, as the industry expands, is making sure the next generation of workers is being trained now to keep up with future demand.
“It’s going to impact every single industry,” Mounts said of advanced air mobility.
In a state known for being “first in flight,” Mounts believes it’s even more important to be “next in flight.”
“The goal really is to make sure that the U.S. is a leader in this industry, and really in particular that that leadership starts right here in North Carolina,” he added.