According to CNN, to meet demand for air travel over the next 20 years, 87 new pilots per day will need to be trained to fly commercial aircraft. That's one every 16 minutes.
But where there are problems, there are solutions, and some of the best solutions are grass-roots efforts. So it is in Grand Haven, where local pilots and aviation enthusiasts are introducing children to flying, airplanes and aviation careers.
The local Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 211, based at the Grand Haven airport, offers those ages 8-17 a free plane ride through a program called Young Eagles. Local Young Eagles coordinator Warren Roosen says the program matches interested children with certified volunteer pilots who show the students their airplanes, allow them to participate in a preflight inspection of the airplane and take them on a flight around Grand Haven.
So, can a small Grand Haven effort really help solve the shortage of pilots in the U.S.?
Local photographer and aviation enthusiast Dale Hagen knows the answer. He asked his father, also Dale, if he would help cook breakfast for the Grand Haven fly-in on June 2. Dale brought with him his 15-year-old homeschooled granddaughter, Joelle, who probably thought she would spend her morning stirring eggs.
On a whim, Dale asked Joelle if she might be interested in a Young Eagles flight. Her eyes went wide and her jaw almost hit the floor.
What Dale didn't know at the time is that Joelle had recently become very interested in a career as a pilot, but she had never flown in an airplane — of any size — let alone in the cockpit with a pilot who wanted to show her how airplanes work.
So Dale signed Joelle up for a Young Eagles flight with local pilot and EAA Chapter 211 member Ethan Beswick in Beswick’s 1948 Cessna 140. Ethan explained the airplane to Joelle and the two of them completed a preflight inspection of the post-war taildragger. Then Joelle enjoyed her very first airplane ride around Grand Haven, including handling the controls and doing some flying herself.
Joelle also got to meet local Fed Ex pilot Brian Green, and talked to a Navy veteran and other pilots about how to become a pilot. Joelle had a blast, and she couldn't stop smiling for a week.
If you know someone age 8-17 who might want to learn more about aviation and take a Young Eagles flight, encourage them to attend the next EAA Young Eagles flight day — which is Saturday, July 14, at the Grand Haven airport, 16446 Comstock St. The event runs from 8-11 a.m. There is also an Airport Community Open House beginning at 10 a.m. on the same day.
You might think you're just helping a child, but you can help solve the nation's pilot shortage at the same time.
And, don’t be surprised if, on an airline flight 10 years from now, you hear this from your flight deck: "Welcome aboard, this is your captain Joelle speaking ..."
Dale Hagen contributed to this article.