VAN NUYS -- Hundreds of students swarmed Syncro Hangar at Van Nuys Airport on Friday to test flight simulators, construct tiny model planes and pose behind NASA spacesuit cutouts during Aviation Career Day.
``When I came here it was really an eye opener,'' said Amanda Evans, 18, after stepping out of the cockpit of a flight simulator. The intensity of the experience made Evans, a senior at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, more excited about her plans to study aeronautics and aerospace engineering at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Evans was one of 1,400 students from local middle and high schools who explored the cavernous hangar and learned about studying and working in the aviation industry.
Chatting with former military pilots made Kevin Kumar, 17, a junior at Northridge Academy, more open to enlisting.
Kumar started thinking about enlisting after getting his SAT results back. With his score, ``it would be hard to get into a good college,'' Kumar confided. ``This would be a second path.''
Local officials encouraged students to aim for aviation jobs close to home during a brief presentation that kicked off the fair.
``We brought you here today because we believe in you and we believe you can live large and find a job in this industry,'' said Councilman Tony Cardenas, who co-sponsored the event with Syncro Aviation and whose district includes the airport.
Landing one of the 10,000 jobs generated by the airport is possible for locals, according to Kenn Phillips, director of work force and education at the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley.
One in four of those working as mechanics or engineers at the airport will retire in the next decade and need to be replaced, Phillips said.
``It's an older, white-haired work force,'' he said.
Plus, with private air travel booming and the Valley population continuing to grow, even more positions will be created.
For many students, the dream job that bounced off their tongue was pilot. But for every flying ace, there are dozens more support jobs, making flying highly competitive. On aviationemployment.com, out of 3,600 job postings, only 29 called for pilots.
At the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University booth, Jake McIntire was trying to make other aviation jobs, such as engineering, as exciting as flying planes.
McIntire, an assistant admissions director at the school's campus in Prescott, Ariz., was handing out balsa wood model planes for students to put together.
The freebies were working wonders.
Students mobbed the table, standing three and four deep for a chance to grab a wood sheet imprinted with plane parts. They popped out the wings and body, hastily put them together, then stuck around to ask for tips to make them fly better.
The planes attract students who are interested in hands-on, technical jobs. They ``spark an interest in building things,'' McIntire said.
Starting salaries of aviation jobs
Airport manager: $37,000
Flight physician: $65,000
Air traffic controller: $37,200
Quality assurance manager: $70,000
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