The decline in general aviation is no secret, as aviation trade publications feature large amounts of articles dedicated to parsing why young people are steering away from careers in the field of aviation and why the hobby of flying small planes is on the wane.
“General aviation has declined quite a bit in the last 10 or 15 years,” said Frank Jackson, president of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and member of the Golden Empire Flying Association.
Both organizations are attempting to resurrect interest in general aviation by offering young boys and girls in western Nevada County exposure to the world of flight.
For more than a decade, the local Experimental Aircraft Association has offered scholarships that send one or two local students to Oshkosh, Wis., where the EAA hosts an air academy camp.
“It’s a one-week camp where the kids stay at a dormitory and all the transportation and food is provided,” Jackson said. “It’s not like a real academic environment. It’s designed to be fun and stimulate interest.”
The camp, in lieu of simply giving young people flying lessons, approaches the discipline of aviation more broadly, demonstrating the theory of flight, the principles of lift, how to construct aircrafts and other elements, Jackson said.
“The experience was phenomenal,” said Noah Ocker, a Grass Valley resident and high school student who visited the academy last August.
Ocker grew up in an Air Force family and has been around airplanes his entire life, but the opportunity to take classes on the principle of lift from a former aerospace engineer with Boeing ranks as one of the best aviation experiences of his life, he said.
“It was really interesting stuff,” Ocker said. “I am definitely considering aviation, if not as a career, then definitely as a hobby. The program opened my eyes to some of the opportunities available.”
For Jackson, Ocker’s enthusiasm is evidence the mission of the scholarship program is successful.
“We want to pass on our passion for what we love to younger people,” he said.
Jackson believes interest in aviation will begin to increase as a low supply of pilots creates greater demand, rendering the careers more attractive once again.
“It is starting to swing the other way,” he said. “The reasons for the decline in interest is economic. It’s expensive to fly and the jobs are not as good.”
While the prospects of a flying career begin to improve, Jackson believes exposing young people to the excitement and romance of flying planes untethered through the sky will help spur more interest.
Jackson is also a member of the Golden Empire Flyers Association, which awards a scholarship to area young people.
GEFA dedicates $3,000 to young persons aged 16 or older desirous of earning a pilot’s license
The deadline for applying for the GEFA scholarship is May 31. The deadline for applying for the EAA scholarship is March 2.
“I am definitely considering aviation, if not as a career, than definitely as a hobby. The program opened my eyes to some of the opportunities available.”