Remember what it was like to look up as a child and see birds flying? Did you ever imagine what soaring through the clouds could feel like? Maybe you saw planes and helicopters fly across the sky and wondered, why not me?
Crystal Air makes dreams like these real. As Future Ready Institute employers, they’re helping local high school students reach their goals of becoming licensed pilots and aircraft mechanics. Taylor Newman, director of operations, Crystal Air, co-founded the company alongside his brother in 2003. Operating out of Wilson Air Center at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, Crystal Air offers a wide range of general aviation services including flight training, aircraft management, maintenance, charter flights and more. Every year Newman and his team at Crystal Air help over 100 students reach their goal of learning to fly — thanks to highly-qualified flight instructors with over 36,000 teaching hours combined. Crystal Air flies to destinations like Memphis, Tennessee and Athens, Georgia, as well as Apalachicola and Panama City Beach, Florida. Recently, Crystal Air partnered with Hamilton County Schools to promote aviation among students and inspire the next generation of pilots and aircraft mechanics.
“The world needs more pilots and more mechanics. We put our money where our mouth is and provided a scholarship so that Brainerd High School students can learn to fly,” Newman says.
This roughly $12,000 scholarship helps offer students aviation career paths through the Future Ready Institute School of Aviation at Brainerd High School — a program founded in 2018. Collaboration between Chattanooga Airport and Brainerd High began under John Naylor, former vice president of planning at Chattanooga Airport, now retired. Future Ready Institutes serve 13 high schools in Hamilton County, providing work-based learning opportunities for students within multiple career paths including engineering, healthcare and entrepreneurship, as well as aviation. Last year, four Brainerd High School seniors gained hands-on aviation experience through internships at Chattanooga Airport, Wilson Air Center and Crystal Air.
The program at Crystal Air is divided into two sections, flight instruction and maintenance. So far, Crystal Air has helped two students advance toward reaching their private pilot certification, and student Janolan Sims is also on a path of becoming an aircraft mechanic. Newman aims to provide real-world experiences outside the classroom so students can see what it takes to succeed in aviation.
“You’ve got to be a self-starter and you’ve got to be motivated. Aviation is a customer service-oriented industry and is fairly standard and strict. So, you need to be a rule follower as well,” Newman says.
The program runs from six months to one year, and requires a three-hour a day commitment. Students arrive around lunchtime and divide into their respective departments. Interns in the maintenance department can find themselves assisting with general duties like changing spark plugs, cleaning hangars and other hands-on training
Meanwhile, students in the piloting program are hard at work clocking in lab hours toward their flight certification. These experiences could potentially lead to job opportunities for candidates looking to turn their apprenticeships into careers.
“We always look at these opportunities as recruitment tools. There is a shortage of pilots and mechanics. The best way to find candidates who like this career is to home-grow your own,” Newman says.
Though the program is still in its infancy, Newman hopes that the aviation internship at Crystal Air will grow to provide more opportunities for Hamilton County students, following the steps of similar programs at aviation-specific high schools across the country. The growth of programs like Future Ready Institute ensures Chattanooga’s workforce continues to thrive while providing new opportunities for students to take off in exciting careers.
“The biggest benefit is giving back and growing the community as a whole. You’ve got to start somewhere when it comes to growing the future. This program lets us do just that,” Newman says.
To learn more about Crystal Air, visit flycrystalair.com.
Images courtesy of Derek Peters/Pathfinder films.