BY CALEB PERHNE, WCYB
ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. — The demand is growing for airline pilots while the number of pilots available is shrinking.
That's why Elizabethton High School took eighth graders to the sky to give them their first taste of what's it's like to be in the air. Students strapped in to decide if they want to join an aviation class in high school and become a pilot themselves.
Junior Heath Owens is just a few steps away from flying on his own in the program. He hopes to seize a great career opportunity.
"It's a broad field of jobs and careers, and it's all starting here,” Owens said.
Those opportunities are expected to grow. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. is expected to lose 13,250 pilots over the next 20 years. In that same time, Boeing said the world will need 790,000 more, 206,000 in North America.
"Airlines are paying up to $20,000 signing bonuses because they just can't get enough people,” teacher Dan Mills said. “so it's a great time for young men and women."
For many, it was their first time in the air. It's an experience that can strike an interest that could last a lifetime.
Eighth grader Kaleb Nelson was nervous at first, but now he's ready for more.
"Everything looked beautiful up there,” Nelson said. “The clouds, the mountains. It was beautiful."
Owens' advice is for kids to give it a shot.
"If you have the desire to do it, do it,” he said. “You're only young once."
Meanwhile, he's making plans to fly in college and then in the military.