ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — Reginald Booker is a student at Elizabeth City State University, but his future is about to take off.
“I’d love to be a captain for a major airline,” Booker told News 3.
He’s a flight student with Elizabeth City State University’s aviation program.
“Growing up I’ve always wanted to travel,” Booker said. “I’ve had a love for aviation since I was very young, living in Atlanta, going around Hartsfield-Jackson, seeing all the jumbo jets and things like that.”
Aviation experts say now is the perfect time to get your wings. That’s because of the recent pilot shortage due to airlines laying off pilots during the pandemic.
“And we also have pilots who are up for retirement,” Dr. Kuldeep Rawat, Dean of the School of Science, Aviation, Health, and Technology, said. “So 50 percent, if you check any airline’s roster, 50 percent of pilots are coming for retirement in a few years.”
A report from the Federal Aviation Administration said in the next 20 years, it predicts domestic passenger service will grow about five percent each year so pilots are needed. Of course, you’ll need to study and train, and if you’ve never flown before then you may start with a small four-seat plane.
ECSU showed us their fleet of small planes. Inside, one can see the yoke — equivalent to a steering wheel in a car –, the knobs, and many buttons. It may appear intimidating but ECSU certified flight instructor Brenna Daniel said practice makes perfect.
“It can be pretty intimidating,” Daniel said. “It seems like a lot at first but once you have everything together it’s actually pretty easy to fly an airplane off one of these.”
Daniel graduated from the program and is helping train new students as a CFI. Being a CFI also allows her to also rack up flight experience and hours. Those hours will eventually to a pilot’s job with the airlines.
“Some come in with a little bit of time but the normal student is 0-time,” Daniel said.
Daniel flew News 3 Reporter Julio Avila in her plane, showing him the ropes of flying in a small plane. Aviation programs can cost 10’s of thousands of dollars, even up to $100,000.
This program, Dr. Rawat said, is “less than $32,000. I don’t think you can get kind of deal anywhere else.”
“I would say just take that first step and do it,” Booker said.