Promoting the Profession at Schools, Conferences, and Oshkosh

Weighing In

By Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA Vice President–Administration/Secretary

Helping to ensure the future of the airline piloting profession is one of ALPA’s strategic goals, and the Association strives to educate young people, along with others who may be rethinking previous job choices, about the many advantages of this rewarding career. ALPA works with academic organizations to engage with students in particular. In providing programs and services to assist them as they transition to the working world, the Association helps bridge the gap between the classroom and the flight deck.

In my role as vice president–administration/secretary, I work with ALPA’s Professional Development Group (PDG) to not only manage this union responsibility, but also to look for new ways to improve the Association’s outreach efforts. And in the four elected terms I’ve handled this task, I’ve learned that the most effective way to communicate just how great it is to fly for a living is through face-to-face contact.

Nothing replaces the value of having a personal discussion with someone, responding to their facial cues, and answering any questions they may have. That’s why the Association supports the nearly 2,800 pilot volunteers who visit with students where they learn. At primary and secondary schools, pilots attend school career days, and through these and other activities, we make contact with tens of thousands of youngsters and teenagers each year.

The PDG works with the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) to promote careers in aviation and to provide school counselors with accurate information about airline piloting jobs and career paths for their students. ALPA volunteers also appear at the annual ASCA conference to familiarize school counselors with, the union’s online repository of airline pilot career information and other ALPA resources that are available.

At the collegiate level, ALPA maintains Aviation Collegiate Education (ACE) Clubs and other mentoring programs with 13 colleges and universities as well as at a dozen others that offer aviation degrees. These outreach efforts enable students to meet and interact with active airline pilots, who in many cases are alumni of the same schools. As colleges and universities see the tangible value created by establishing these occupational pipelines, ALPA’s outreach has continued to grow and more partnerships are on the horizon.

In addition to working with educational institutions, ALPA volunteers attend the annual conferences of organizations like Women in Aviation, International; the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals; and the National Gay Pilots Association. We do so to personally communicate that those who have—or aspire to have—the required licenses and ratings and solid flying skills should actively consider this rewarding career.

Most recently, a core group of 39 ALPA pilot volunteers and I participated in this year’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the largest aviation convention, air show, and fly-in in North America. If you’ve never had the chance to attend, AirVenture is a mammoth celebration of anything and everything related to air transportation. This year’s event drew 608,000 participants, despite the lingering health crisis. That’s more than a half million people interested in flying all gathered in one location.

ALPA secured expanded booth facilities near Oshkosh’s Boeing Plaza to ensure we had greater visibility this year. The booth featured a separate area for presentations where hundreds heard members talk about what it’s like to fly the line. Pilot volunteers from mainline, low-cost, express-level, and all-cargo operations chatted with the crowds at our main counter, and 310 of our members made a point to check in with us at the booth.

F/O Justin Dahan (FedEx Express), ALPA’s Education Committee chair, and I participated in separate EAA Radio interviews to talk about ALPA’s activities at AirVenture and how much fun it is to fly as an airline pilot. And on the ground and in the skies, numerous ALPA pilots participated in the air show and a host of other aviation-related presentations and outreach efforts, reflecting the many ways our Association engages with the larger aviation community.

ALPA continues to receive positive feedback about our participation at Oshkosh this year, and I ask each of you to consider volunteering for next year’s event. Witness for yourself the tremendous opportunity AirVenture offers to advance our cause with those who are just as excited about flying as we are. More importantly, join us in helping to uphold and strengthen the airline piloting legacy.

This article was originally published in the September 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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