New aviation program for young adults takes flight with FAA grant

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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High school students in Beaufort County will soon soar to new heights thanks to a $374,930 Workforce Development Grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The grant establishes a High School Aviation Academy in an effort to generate interest among young people in either becoming airplane pilots or drone operators (also known as uncrewed aerial vehicle operators).  

Beaufort County Community College, Beaufort County Schools, Inner Banks STEM Center and Dillon’s Aviation will facilitate the academy. The academy will take place at the Inner Banks STEM Center and the Washington-Warren Airport. 

Students in the High School Aviation Academy will be divided into two sectors – those who will take a 14-week Private Pilot course while others take a 13-week UAV Operators course. Students will complete course work at home during the week then accumulate hands-on experience each Saturday at the IBX STEM Center or Washington-Warren Airport. 

Students taking the Private Pilot course will be evaluated by Dillon’s Aviation who will review ground school materials. Students will also have an opportunity to use flight training devices and a full-motion flight simulator for flight training practice. 

Drone Operation students will review ground school materials with instructors with Inner Banks STEM Center. Students will receive detailed instruction on drone operation in the National Airspace System, including flight maneuvers. They will also have a chance to build an actual drone. 

According to Inner Banks STEM Center President, Alvin Powell, the academy hopes to recruit about 25 total students between both programs – 10 students in the Private Pilot course, but 15 in the Drone Operators course.

Successful students will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the academy. Afterward, they can take the related online FAA examination at a designed third-party testing facility. After passing the FAA exam for either the Private Pilot Certificate or the Part 107 UAV Drone Operator Certificate, students can work as a professional pilot or drone operator. 

“This is a profound opportunity for our students,” said Beaufort County Community College president Dr. Dave Loope. “The applications for drones in our area are great, and we are happy to continue our partnership with IBX STEM.” Beaufort County Community College has worked with IBX STEM on summer youth programming and a STEM Day where youth get to explore programs on campus.

Ben Poulin, industry training and UAV operations coordinator at Beaufort County Community College said there are many opportunities for employment in the drone sector so long as a person already has a pilot’s license. This ideal hire has a pilot’s license and the added skill set of drone operation. “One thing we’ve learned really quickly here in setting up our program at the college is that many people aren’t hiring drone pilots. People are hiring people who have the skills – someone who’s already trained in something and then they are adding a skill set and that being drones. The first step in that process is the commercial certificate,” he said. 

Drone Operators can work in real estate photography, land surveying, utility inspections, public safety, spraying and image mapping in agriculture and more, Poulin said. 

“We’re finding very quickly that almost any industry, any job can find an application for drones,” Poulin said. 

The first step in joining the aviation industry is earning a pilot’s license which is a hurdle for many people, because training costs an estimated $15,000. Today, there are scholarships through Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association available for people wishing to get a license due to a recent pilot shortage. 

A pilot shortage exists, because as older pilots retire, there’s not enough experienced, younger pilots to take their places. There is a lack of younger pilots, because of financial hurdles impeding them from getting their licenses. 

Wayman Aviation Academy says, “the pilot shortage refers to the lack of qualified pilots to meet the growing demand for air travel worldwide. Several factors have contributed to this issue. Firstly, the retirement of a large number of experienced pilots has created a significant void in the workforce. As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, a substantial portion of the pilot population is leaving the industry, leading to a shortage of experienced aviators,” 

“Additionally, the high cost of pilot training has deterred many aspiring pilots from pursuing a career in aviation. The expenses associated with obtaining the necessary licenses and ratings, coupled with the significant time investment.” Allison Dillon with Dillion Aviation, Inc. in Greenville advises young people to start their aviation career early. “The earlier you start, the easier it is to do this,” she says, because most aviation scholarships are written with young adults in mind.

Flight training can begin at a young age; however, young adults must be 16 years old to start flying solo and 17 years old before they can receive a Private Pilot’s License. They must also be proficient in English, hold a third-class medical certificate and possess basic math skills, according to the FAA. 

The course and related materials will be free to participating students. 

Students, guardians or parents can learn more by visiting

High School Aviation Academy collaborators will have an opportunity to apply for a second year of funding. 

Dillon Aviation, Inc., in Greenville, has been in operation since 1973. Dillion Aviation considers its FAA approved Part 141 Flight School a grassroots organization with a primary focus on private pilot training and establishing good foundations for future pilots. 

“We have a long-standing relationship with the Inner Banks Stem Center in Washington, North Carolina, and have been introducing their students to flying through their summer camps for many years. Over the years, we have opened our hangar to many school classrooms eager to learn about aviation and have participated in Grow Local and various charitable organizations like Free To Be Me. Dillon Aviation believes that it is our responsibility to foster the next generation of safe, knowledgeable, and responsible pilots,” Allison Dillon of Dillon Aviation, Inc. wrote in an email to the Daily News.