The Aspen Flight Academy is putting out the all-call for incoming Aspen High School students to participate this summer in the “Every Student Flies” program, which offers every student at the school an hour of free flight time.
Participants may even get the chance to do it in airplanes that still have that “new car” — er, airplane — smell. According to Aspen Flight Academy’s Board of Directors Chairman Michael Pearce, the program just took in the delivery of $1.2 million worth of new aircraft. Two brand-new planes join one more that was already in the wings.
“These kids will be learning in some of the newest technology there is,” said Jeff Posey, the president of the Aspen Flight Academy.
The program usually gets two new planes every year and sells the two older ones, but they’re currently holding onto one of the two previous planes to bolster teaching capacity, according to Pearce.
“We’ve kept our other aircraft for the time being as more of a test, because our student base has grown so much, and the amount of flight training we are doing has grown … and then what probably will happen is, as the years go on, we’ll change our deliveries from two (per) year to three (per) year,” Pearce said.
There are currently 104 students signed up for the fall aviation program, Posey said. The academy is a nonprofit organization that offers an elective course at Aspen High School, training for students seeking their pilot’s license and training for anyone interested in aviation.
Posey said the program is already working on getting midvalley students involved as well, and the five-year goal is to expand downvalley into Garfield County, too.
The way Posey described it, the academy could create a pipeline for students to pursue a career in aviation that brings them right back to the runway in Aspen.
“Right now we’re producing about 10 private pilots a year, and we think that number over the next five years could be anywhere from 20 to 25 private pilots a year,” he said.
High schoolers from the valley train with certified flight instructors from Purdue University’s aeronautics school; after graduating high school, those students could even end up at Purdue, then later might return to the flight academy as instructors, “then move up through the ranks,” he said.
“We’re just trying to move these pilots, these young pilots through this program into large airlines, regional airlines,” Posey said. “And at some point, within the next five years, you’ll hop on a plane in Aspen — it’ll be an Aspen graduate flying a regional jet, you know, out of Denver, or wherever.”
The Every Student Flies program has also involved some student interaction with the parts of flight that take place on the ground; before the COVID-19 pandemic, students would pop up into the control tower, too. Students may get a taste of aviation and then explore careers in the mechanical world or in the control tower, Pearce said.
“Every Student Flies has trickled into all kinds of professions out of this one hour of flight instruction that they all get,” Pearce said. “That part has been very cool, and it’s been rewarding to see it be so successful, and create a career path for so many.”