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Faith Lutheran students soar to new altitudes in campus flight academy

Posted at 6:50 AM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-20 23:27:22-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Taking off and flying over the Las Vegas Valley in a Redbird TD2 flight simulator is more stressful than it looks. For students at Faith Lutheran High School, flying a plane is as easy as riding a bike.

“It’s a lot more enjoyable because once you start to get to know the plane," said Conner Schmidt, a senior at Faith Lutheran. "It’s becoming a part of you.”

Schmidt already has his private pilot’s license, but soon he will earn his commercial license with hopes to follow in his father’s flight path, working as a Southwest pilot.

“To have this experience at such a young age, not many people are able to do this," Schmidt said. "So having this experience alone is just a blessing."

On Thursday, students and faculty officially unveiled the Oder Family Flight Academy on the Faith Lutheran campus during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Students will soar to new altitudes in the $1.1 million classroom and aviation lab, marking the progress of the academy and its flight club.

The Oder Family Flight Academy will accommodate 30 students in an accredited program to navigate them towards a career in aviation. All of whom are inspired to become pilots like Bobby Ye, a senior exchange student from China.

“I love aviation because I have flown in big planes, small planes, all kinds of planes,” Ye said. He wants to major in Aviation Management in college and figured learning how to fly a plane would be beneficial to his career.

All of the equipment inside the classroom is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. The academy wants to give students the opportunity to train in an accredited flight program. Students who matriculate through it will earn their pilot’s license before they even graduate high school.

“We just want to be the moment that spark is ignited,” said Bianca Lorenz, a pilot and a certified ground instructor. She heads the flight academy at the school.

Pilots have to be 17 years old to earn a license, and Lorenz, said it’s important to spark an interest in aviation at a young age. As teenagers grow older, the more experience they’ll gain. However, Lorenz also says exposing more youth to a career in aviation will help combat the pilot shortage that Southern Nevada and the rest of America are seeing.

“There’s going to be a pilot shortage so why not start filling it now instead of when our travel has stopped."

The United States is already suffering from a pilot shortage. It has led to canceled flights and higher airfares. According to Statista, a business data platform, by 2026, the U.S. will be short by 4,505 pilots. There are several factors contributing to this shortage. One is that it’s expensive to get your FAA credentials.

Prospective pilots can spend up to $100,000 for training and education. Another factor is the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, the number of flights was reduced by more than half, dropping from 36 million flights in 2019 to 16.1 million in 2020. This forced airlines to offer their pilots early retirement packages to cut costs.

However, air travel is gaining back speed, soaring to its pre-pandemic levels. As the industry takes off, Lorenz says it’s time to change the face of the aviation industry. In a male-dominated field, less than seven percent of pilots are women, even though having a female pilot in the cockpit is safer.

“Statistically speaking women make better decisions in the cockpit,” Lorenz said. “So by adding women, we’re just adding a layer of safety. Not that men pilots are any less, but women just have a way of thinking through situations differently.”

Lorenz beams with pride when talking about one of her students, Eliana Rau, a junior at Faith Lutheran. Next year, Eliana will earn her commercial pilot’s license before she graduates, an accomplishment that will also make her father and grandfather proud, both of whom served in the Air Force, then flew commercial planes.

“I really really like it,” said Eliana Rau, a junior at Faith Lutheran. “It really helps me with my flight training because we get to come here and fly on the simulators which takes off a lot of time in the airplane.”

Just like learning how to drive a car, students must log a lot of flying time. The FAA requires 1500 flight hours, and that time is invaluable to these young students whose futures will reach new altitudes.