The writing on the wall outside of the Burke High School classroom is direct.
“You. Can. Fly.”
The message is as literal as it is inspirational.
The school’s Air and Space Academy, which began in 2011, helps students begin careers as airplane pilots, aviation mechanics and drone pilots.
And with the airline industry facing a pilot shortage, now might be the time for students’ careers to take off.
The 2019 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook forecast that 804,000 new civil aviation pilots, 769,000 new maintenance technicians and 914,000 new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years.
Boeing said the forecast includes the commercial aviation, business aviation and civil helicopter industries.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires airline pilots to retire by 65.
“Everybody’s hiring,” said Patrick Ryan, a Burke history teacher and Air National Guard veteran. “Everybody’s hiring at ridiculous rates.”
Tyler and Scott Swanson entered Burke contemplating careers in medicine. Then a teacher recommended the Air and Space Academy.
The twins took classes like introduction to aircraft and rocketry, history of aviation and meteorology.
Seniors can take a class, called powered flight, that allows the students to complete the testing portion of their private pilot’s licenses at Burke.
The 17-year-old seniors got their pilot’s licenses earlier this month.
The twins did the actual flying outside of the academy, but the school has a flight simulator students can use for practice.
The Swansons are also interning at Jet Linx, a private jet company headquartered in Omaha, where they are working on flight following, or monitoring aircraft when they take off, fly on their course and land.
Through Burke’s academy, the Swansons have been able to dual enroll and rack up college credits and should be considered sophomores when they enroll at the University of Nebraska at Omaha next year.
Spending less time in college can be beneficial because students have to pay for their own flight training.
Scott Vlasek, a lecturer with UNO’s Aviation Institute, said his students could spend $40,000 to $50,000 on flight training in addition to normal college costs.
Vlasek said 10 to 15 years ago, a pilot’s starting salary was low, but in recent years those salaries have increased, and students are going to see that investment pay off.
Commercial airline pilots can make six figures, he said.
More pathways also exist leading to those jobs. Vlasek said his students can get conditional job offers their sophomore or junior year of college.
Dee Ruleaux of Jet Linx said that after 9/11, the industry changed, and fewer people were seeking careers in aviation.
Ruleaux, who also serves as the chair of the Burke Air and Space Academy Advisory Board, said the company is now generating pathways for students.
Jet Linx and Southwest Airlines have partnered to create a program called Destination 225°, where job candidates start with the private aviation company and then move on to the commercial airline.
A group of Burke students was flown down to Dallas in December so they could tour Southwest’s headquarters and learn more about careers in aviation.
About 112 students are enrolled in the academy at Burke. A total of 283 students are taking classes in the academy, some as elective courses.
Interest appears to be growing.
Andrew Brooks, a curriculum specialist at Burke, told the Omaha school board earlier this month that during last year’s open house, the academy hosted about 280 families. This year, it was more than 1,000 families.
Vlasek said UNO’s program had 84 majors in the spring of 2011. This semester, there are 200 majors.
Ryan, the Burke teacher, said it’s rewarding to see students accomplish dreams they never thought possible.
“To take a kid from Omaha, Nebraska, and he becomes a cargo pilot or an airline pilot, and the world is now his or hers,” he said. “It opens all kinds of global opportunities.”