PUNTA GORDA — “Keep the greasy side down.”
That’s the advice Kelsy Lynch, 18, offers to anyone wishing to become an airplane pilot. Lynch earned her private pilot’s license shortly after she graduated from Charlotte High School in May. While attending CHS, Lynch earned college credits in the aviation program at Charlotte Technical Center.
“I didn’t earn my pilot license in class,” explained Lynch. “But it encouraged me and inspired me to push a little harder and go a little further.”
Longtime pilot Jean Lewis, owner of Harborside Aviation in Punta Gorda, has taken the teenager under her wing and is presently preparing Lynch to fly a larger craft.
On Saturday, Lewis will help girls enrolled in the aviation program at Charlotte Technical Center come one step closer to earning their wings. In an effort to promote women starting careers in aviation, Lewis has offered to take female students up in one of her Cessna 172 planes. Two female ambassador pilots will also fly into Punta Gorda Airport to talk to the girls about a career in aeronautics.
“The first step to becoming a commercial pilot is to get your private license,” said Lewis. “That requires 40 hours of flying time. The girls sitting in the front with me will be able to log their hours on Saturday and be a step closer to earning their license.”
In partnership with Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, CTC offers dual-enrollment courses in aerospace flight, aviation maintenance and pre-engineering. Students earn college credits and are prepared to pass industry exams administered by the Federal Aviation Administration upon graduation.
While more than 150 students are enrolled in the program, only about 15 are girls.
“That is the highest number of female students we have ever had,” said Karen Candiani, director of the Charlotte Aerospace Institute at CTC. “Unfortunately, that number mimics the trend in the real world, and we are trying to change that.”
According to the FAA, of the nearly 600,000 active pilots in the United States, about 6 percent are women and only slightly more than 3 percent are rated as airline transport pilots.
“There is a growing need for pilots, so this is a great opportunity for women to enter into the field,” said Candiani. “Countries like China and India are growing and don’t have skilled pilots, so they are tapping into the pool in Europe and the U.S.”
In addition, U.S. airlines are facing their biggest pilot shortage since the 1960s, with higher experience requirements for new hires about to take hold just as the industry braces for a wave of retirements, according to Women in Aviation International.
“This is a great opportunity for these girls,” said Candiani. “I feel like there is still a very real gender stigma associated with the job — women drive cars and boats and there is no reason they shouldn’t be driving planes too.”