Taking flight is what 10th grade student Chas Harris says he loves most.
“The taking off feeling is always fun. You feel weightless. It’s really nice,” he said.
That’s why he and about 50 high school students joined the Coachella Valley Youth Aviation Education Program. The three-week summer training kicked off Saturday at the sheriff’s station in Thermal.
“Just being in the air off the ground, it’s something different,” said Jake Stebbins, a 10th grader at Palm Springs High School.
The students will learn about aerodynamics, weather, and air traffic control safety.
“It’s a passion. It’s like being a musician or painting. Flying is a passion for handling a machine in the air and coming down safely,” said the chief flight instructor Rafael Sierra.
Howeve, Sierra warns this passion is quickly fading.
“There’s a need for new pilots, we’re getting old. There’s a decline in the United States,” he said.
In the past 30 years, there’s been more than a 40 percent drop in the number of people studying to become pilots, according to the Federal Aviation Administration,
The FAA reports in there were nearly 830,000 active pilots in the 1980s and now there are only 600,000.
It’s the outcome of the 9/11 attacks and the rising cost of tuition to flight school.
However with the help of Sierra, local flying enthusiasts hope the free program will change that and get more hopeful aviators off the ground.
“People have helped me over the years. I’ve been a pilot for 46 years. I’ve received help. It’s time I make sure I can reciprocate,” he said.
The program is sponsored by local businesses and aviation groups to put students on the fast track to receive a FAA private pilot’s license.
“It’s exciting to know I can fly in a few years. I can get my own license. It’s pretty cool,” said Stebbins.