Fostering the next generation of aviation professionals

Posted in: Aviation


African American girl sitting in airplane pilots seatI’ve been interested in aviation since I was a 16-year-old kid taking flying lessons at a grass strip in Michigan. I always wanted to fly; originally I wanted to be an astronaut. Never did I think to myself, “I want to become an aviation planner when I grow up,” yet here I am, 28 years later—and I absolutely love what I do.

When I was young, I didn’t know that airport planning was something I could do professionally, or something that I would enjoy. I’m lucky I found my way here. As the aviation industry faces a pilot shortage, it becomes increasingly clear that we need to reach out to the next generation and show them all the potential options the industry holds for them. Virtually every facet of aviation would benefit from more interest—from pilots to mechanics to planners to finance to air medics—and if we can get students interested and excited about the aviation industry when they’re young, the hope is that they will continue the cycle and go on to educate others.

To this end, I was the Principal Investigator for ACRP Research Report 202: Developing Innovative Strategies for Aviation Education and Participation.

The report strives to address the systemic lack of information students receive regarding their professional options in the aviation industry by providing resources to help educators promote interest in younger populations ranging from 10 years old to 25 years old. The truth is, most people just don’t know these jobs exist and are viable career paths. This harms not only the aviation industry, but our larger national and global communities as well. Aviation is responsible for so much of what keeps our societies running smoothly.

For instance, pilot shortages mean that flights are canceled, or service gets pulled, especially in smaller communities. Airplane mechanic shortages mean planes can’t get in the air. More broadly, it is necessary to develop the next generation of aviation professionals because airports are global gateways, giving access to virtually anywhere in the world. Our airports provide a nexus through which food, goods, medicine, tourists, ideas, and services all pass.

Through this worldwide connection, a global community becomes possible. There’s a saying in the aviation industry: “If you build a mile of road, you can go a mile. But if you build a mile of runway, you can go anywhere.” It is this sentiment of connection that makes educating and emboldening our youth to become engaged in the aviation industry so vital.

Last week I presented on this important topic at the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) 88th Annual Convention & Tradeshow in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you’re interested in learning more, I will also be presenting on the project in Fairbanks, Alaska, as part of the Northwest Chapter American Association of Airport Executives (NWAAE) Annual Conference on September 25th. Looking forward to seeing you there!


Stephanie Ward, AICP

About the Author

As an aviation planner and pilot, Stephanie Ward brings unique understanding to her projects, big and small. She is passionate about working with communities and airport sponsors to keep airports viable. When she isn’t traveling for work, she enjoys using her frequent flyer miles to explore the U.S.

Read more posts by Stephanie Ward, AICP

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