With Flight Cancellations, Aviator Hopes Drone Exhibit Inspires Kids to Sky-High Careers

June 27, 2022

Jun. 25—With flights being canceled throughout the aviation industry because of labor shortages, Ricardo Foster made what he hopes is a timely visit to a Baton Rouge school.

The U.S. Navy veteran and founder of the Infinity Aero Club in Tampa, Florida, spoke Thursday at the Baton Rouge Community College campus in Central, and also gave a drone demonstration. The school provides training in aviation maintenance.

"I go with my drones and I talk to the kids to get them excited," Foster said.

Aviation careers can be rewarding financially, but require dedication and drive, Foster said. He said some remote pilots, or drone operators, can make as much as $250,000 each year, and air traffic control opportunities start at as much as $80,000 a year.

"I didn't get that coming out of high school and into the Navy," Foster said.

He encouraged women and minorities to pursue the field. Infinity Aero Club, Foster's organization, focuses on introducing underserved demographics to the field.

"Young ladies are not well-represented in the aviation industry," Foster said. "I'm trying to change that one lady at a time."

After Foster's talk, attendees received a tour of the campus' aviation lab and were given a chance to control one of Foster's drones.

Dan Sillinger, BRCC's aviation instructor, said students who complete the 22-month program see high placement in well-paying positions. One student went onto earn $35 per hour working on jets, and others work at major companies like Delta and Boeing.

"We have two students working ... in Hong Kong," Sillinger said.

Foster's visit was sponsored by AviNation magazine.

There are vacant positions throughout the aviation industry. During Father's Day weekend, around 1,400 flights were cancelled. According to air traffic control union NATCA, there are fewer trained air traffic controllers in the market than there have been in 30 years.

Sillinger said he thinks a lack of qualified students entering aviation programs is contributing to the shortage. He said a lot of the students that enter his program weren't prepared for the level of discipline it requires.

"People's lives depend on us," Sillinger said. "There's no room for mistakes or errors."

Ron Erickson, President of the Central Chamber of Commerce, said BRCC's aviation program provides an important opportunity for residents in the area.

"I think it's one of the hidden gems we have in the area," Erickson said. "It's vitally important, especially with us having the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport right here."

Foster said he thinks outreach is an important step to filling the gaps in the industry, but not the only one. He said air traffic control markets, drone companies and the Federal Aviation Administration have all increased their financial aid offerings to train.

Foster started a scholarship to help offset the cost of getting a pilot's license, which can be as high as $15,000.

"Exposure is where it's at," Foster said. "I really want them to get hands-on experience with the drone to show them how simple it can be."


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