CHS students take trip to airport to learn about career opportunities

CHS students take trip to airport to learn about career opportunities

Cumberland High School senior Jason Lamothe sits inside a seaplane owned by Charlie Pickett of Rehoboth, Mass., at North Central State Airport last week. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

SMITHFIELD – A group of Cumberland High School robotics and engineering students received a hands-on lesson in aviation at the North Central State Airport last week, watching from below as their teacher Michael Stead took to the skies.

“Hopefully it sparks an excitement in the kids,” Stead said.

At the event, students toured the facility at 300 Jenckes Hill Road in Smithfield, near the Lincoln town line, learned about aviation technology and career paths and heard from licensed pilots, including state Sen. Stephen Archambault.

“If this is something you want to do, you could have a great career in this. You are the next generation,” said Archambault, who learned how to fly at North Central Airport.

“I can still smell the fuel of the plane,” he said of his flying lessons at the airport. “This stuff is in (my) blood.”

New England Aviation, Air Ventures Flying School, the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and the Rhode Island Commerce Association sponsored the event and donated $2,500 worth of flight school education to participating students.

The idea to bring students to the airport began with a discussion about the national pilot shortage between Chamber Vice President Paul Ouellette and member David Bellenoit of Whitehop LLC, who is a student pilot at the airport. The field trip was organized with help from Bellenoit and Doug Auclair of Air Ventures.

“A historic number of today’s pilots and engineers are soon coming to retirement age,” Bellenoit said, noting that there is a growing demand for qualified candidates to replace the outgoing pilots. “The FAA and NASA have recognized this and are actively getting the message out to kids interested in STEM fields that the path to advancement in this field is getting faster each year.”

According to data from Statista, North America will need roughly 117,000 new pilots in the next 20 years, with the projected pilot deficit expected to increase from 115 in 2016 to more than 2,000 by 2020. The average age of airline pilots in 2016 was about 45 years old, and the mandatory retirement age for pilots is 65.

Lt. Gov. Dan McKee told students that aviation “is a growing opportunity for young people right here in Rhode Island.”

“The purpose of this Aviation Exploration Day was to inspire the students. … We want them to come back and fly,” Bellenoit said.

He said the airport may appear to be walled off to visitors, but it is a public airport that encourages people to stop in.