BRIDGEPORT, W. Va. – The first North Central West Virginia Girls in Aviation Day is coming to Bridgeport on Saturday, aiming to get middle and high school-aged girls interested in aviation.
“Less than five percent of every commercial pilot flying is a woman and less than four percent of every mechanic working on an airplane is a woman. And those statistics really have not changed in the last 60 years,” said Tracy Miller, President of the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex (MAAC).
The (MAAC) markets and promotes West Virginia’s aviation and aerospace assets worldwide.
Before the pandemic, industry experts were already warning of an aviation personnel shortage due to the increasing popularity of air travel and a strong economy.
When the pandemic shutdowns hit, airlines parked aircraft and took federal bailout money on the condition they would not furlough or layoff workers. However, companies did offer early retirement and buyout packages, which many airline industry workers took advantage of.
“Sometimes those pilot shortages are due to the fact that you’ve got an aircraft on the ground and you don’t have the proper maintenance technicians that are able to do the maintenance on the aircraft to get it back in the air,” Miller said.
Like all other industries, aviation is short on qualified people and a relatively large number of older workers are preparing to end their working careers.
“We need more mechanics just to keep up with our existing industries and we have a lot of baby boomers in West Virginia- we have a lot of folks getting ready to retire,” Miller said.
Companies like Aurora Flight Sciences- a Boeing Company, Pratt Whitney, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, The Thrasher Group, Civil Air Patrol and West Virginia Air National Guard will bring information for guests. Additionally, Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community and Technical College will provide tours of their academic programs.
Some of the academic programs are two-year programs that can get graduates into the workforce quickly earning a living wage.
“In a two-year program you are going to come out of that with a job that is higher paying than a lot of four-year programs that kids get in a regular university,” Miller said.
The academic programs are on the grounds of the North Central West Virginia Airport, so it’s possible to graduate and work on the other end of the taxiway.
“I do feel like our youth are getting better at understanding how amazing it is to have health care, a retirement contribution- the whole package, so you’re able to provide for your family,” Miller said.
On Saturday, the first 250 girls get swag bags. There will also be flight simulators, drones, aircraft displays and a chance to win a Discovery Flight.