Seventeen-year-old Becca Moreno can’t get the keys to the family car — but she’s hoping to fly a plane solo in the spring. “Since I was a little girl, I’d always look up at the sky and say, ‘I want to do that,’ ” said Moreno, a senior at Mesa’s Mountain View High School who hopes to join the U.S. Navy next year.
Moreno is one of 13 students in a new aviation class at the East Valley Institute of Technology, which includes instruction on the ground and in the air.
At the end of the yearlong program, students will receive their private pilot certificates.
“We work with industries. They tell us what their needs are, and there’s demand and need right now for good pilots and aircraft mechanics,” said Tim Richard, an assistant principal at EVIT, a public career and technical school in Mesa that enrolls high school students from about a dozen East Valley communities.
He said many pilots, air traffic controllers and maintenance employees will be retiring in the next few years, creating a void for today’s teenagers to fill.
“The pilot population is shrinking,” said Fred Daniels, a former Air Force navigator who teaches the EVIT class.
The EVIT students spend their first semester taking a daily 2 1 /2-hour class where they learn basics, like Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
In their second semester, they will go to the Chandler-Gilbert Community College campus at Williams Gateway Airport, where they will take flight lessons three times per week, eventually flying solo.
Daniels is hoping someone will step in and help with the costs that might inhibit some students from taking the actual flight lessons — which could come to $8,000. The ground school is tuition-free.
Next year, EVIT will also start a class in aviation maintenance.
Sixteen-year-old Jay Hamann, a junior at Mesa’s Desert Ridge High School in the Gilbert Unified School District, said he’s known since his childhood in Michigan that he would someday become a pilot.
“Ever since I was a kid, we would fly down . . . to visit my grandparents in Arizona, and I liked to sit by the wings, watching the flaps go up,” said Hamann, who hopes to join the U.S. Air Force.
He pulled out a thick cardboard-and-plastic tool known as an “E6-B Flight Computer” — circles full of tiny numbers and measurement markings. He said it calculates things like wind correction angles and fuel-to-pound ratios.
“Most of this stuff is completely new to me,” he said.
Aviation programs in the East Valley have been gaining steam over the past few years.
Chandler-Gilbert Community College offers a two-year program at Williams Gateway. It also offers a four-year aviation degree jointly with the University of North Dakota.
Arizona State University Polytechnic’s aeronautical program offers flight training at the airport in a program that has tripled its enrollment since 2000, now including more than 1,200 students. Mesa Community College also offers aviation-related courses.
But EVIT’s will be the first flight program in the East Valley for high school students, said Debra Cates, an admissions adviser at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott.
There are two other high schools with aviation programs in the state — at South Mountain High School in Phoenix and a school in Tucson, she said.
John Baracy, superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District, has said that he would like his district to partner with the new SkySong, ASU’s technology initiative, to offer some sort of aviation programs.
These programs are strongly backed by an industry that senses an acute need for more pilots and mechanics.
Mesa Air Group, which operates Mesa Airlines, has said it needs to recruit some 150 new pilots annually.
Tom Schuh, manager of aircraft maintenance training at Mesa Airlines, said the field is exciting but it’s not one most students consider.
When they think of mechanics, they automatically think of autos, he said.
“Aircraft are mysterious to a lot of people,” he said. “But in aviation there is such variety.”
Even students who don’t become pilots or mechanics will benefit from the courses, he said, because they learn math and science, as well as lessons about electronic and hydraulic systems that will help them in other trades. Daniels said once flying is in their blood, there’s no turning back. “Once you get involved with flying, it becomes a part of your life,” he said. “It’s almost like getting married.”