Illinois Students Explore Local Airport to Learn Aviation Industry

June 6, 2022
As the nation emerges from the COVID pandemic, the aviation industry – like many others – has found it difficult to return to pre-pandemic levels.

As the nation emerges from the COVID pandemic, the aviation industry – like many others – has found it difficult to return to pre-pandemic levels. Facing a shortage of everything from airplane mechanics to pilots, the scarcity of labor is limiting growth in the industry.

But one airport in suburban Chicago is finding new ways to increase awareness of aviation careers and find talent for the industry in the long term.

At Chicago Executive Airport (CEA), Executive Director Jeff Miller saw an opportunity to connect youth to professionals in the field, by inviting students from Holmes Middle School’s Media Club to the airport to see a day in the life of the aviation industry.

“We wanted to think of creative ways to attract the next generation of aviators,” said Miller. “Our goal is not just to make kids aware of the types of jobs available in the aviation industry, but to get them excited about the field and its limitless potential.”

Students selected to visit CEA were tasked with creating a video that documented what they learned at the airport, including interviews with those they met. This video would ultimately be for Project Lead The Way, a program that empowers students to develop and apply in-demand, transportable skills by exploring real-world challenges.  

“Experiential learning engages students by bringing the classroom to the real world,” said Alicia Duell, director of technology & information services for the district. “We are grateful to the employees at Chicago Executive Airport for allowing CCSD21 students this opportunity for first-hand observation.”

To prioritize safety, the students were first given a safety overview, as well as a rundown of all rules that CEA employees must follow.

Next, students explored the maintenance hangar and heard from CEA's Chief Operations Officer Andrew Wolanik, who led a tour of critical maintenance machinery and discussed the highly specialized snow removal process, before being interviewed by one of the students.

Students then met and conducted interviews with representatives from CEA’s three Fixed-Base Operators: Atlantic Aviation, Hawthorn Global Aviation Services and Signature Aviation.

Atlantic Aviation General Manager Mike Keifer spoke with students about his personal experience in the industry, covering his career trajectory and expressing to the students how they could have similar opportunities. Keifer then discussed Atlantic’s role at CEA and how he helps with day-to-day operations.

At Hawthorn Global Aviation Services, students heard from John Antongiovanni, the operations manager, and learned about his career path. Antongiovanni emphasized how skills such as teamwork and communication can help students find success in aviation. 

Students took a break from their interviews to explore the Hawthorn hangar, where they got to see how planes are stored and maintained. Hawthorn employees answered questions and even allowed the students to tour inside one of the planes, a first for several students.

In their final stop, students heard from Pam Kavanaugh at Signature Aviation, who discussed the benefits of working in aviation: “If you like to travel, this industry is an excellent opportunity for you. The best way to get involved is to volunteer and make connections with people in the industry.” She then gave the excited students information on the Young Eagles Program, a program that allows students to fly with pilots in small aircrafts during their summer break.

“While it might be a few years before these students decide on their career paths, opportunities like these help to open their eyes to the vast possibilities available for their futures,” said Executive Director Miller.