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South Florida High Schoolers Learn About Aviation Amidst Pilot Shortage

 Dr. Hinkley's students, wearing variations on a school uniform, stand in front of a plane in October of 2017.
Oxbridge Academy
Dr. Hinkley's students standing in front of a plane in October of 2017.

At Oxbridge Academy in Palm Beach County, students in Dr. Karen Hinkley’s class learn everything from flight mechanics to drone piloting. Oxbridge is one of the 200 schools across the country using a curriculum from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

This four-year program splits into two tracks, one for piloting and one for drones. Students in Hinkley's class learn about physics and plane construction, and go on trips to learn hands-on about flight.

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Hinkley remembers taking a student to the Sun and Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland.

“One of the students looked at this one plane, and he looked at me and he said ‘I’m going to be flying that.’ And now it’s been five years since he graduated and he is now flying for one of the major airlines. And he sends me pictures of him standing in front of his new plane and it’s really very exciting," she said.

Oxbridge even has a 3D flight simulator machine that students can use throughout their time in the program. During COVID-19, physical distancing meant less time for students to be in the simulator, so Hinkley convinced the school to buy 2 more desktop computer flight simulators so the students would get the same amount of practice time.

Hinkley said the best part of her job is seeing her students grow through all four years of high school.

“When I see one of my students walking across the stage with a full scholarship to Embry-Riddle [Aeronautical University], it literally just makes me melt into a big pile of goo. I’m so proud of them and so excited," she said.

According to the Boeing 2020 Outlook, the aviation industry will need to fill more than two million new jobs in the next 20 years. This includes a need for 763,000 civil pilots, 739,000 aviation mechanics and 903,000 cabin crew members.

Glenn Ponas, the AOPA director of high school outreach, said the demand for jobs has only grown in the past year.

“We are actually seeing an increase as a result of COVID because, for a number of factors including early retirements, there’s actually an even greater need now than there was two years ago for pilots," he said.

According to Ponas, the program aims to create a pipeline for students to get jobs.