By Rachel Christian
A new opportunity for students interested in the aerospace industry is coming to the Kissimmee Gateway Airport this fall.
The Florida Aviation Academy, a 9-12 grade privately-funded charter school, promises hands-on training in the aviation business to students right on airport property.
The program will launch phase one in August, with a small freshman class of
up to 50 students. The plan is to gradually expand enrollment to 800 students over the next four years.
Until the new 13-acre on-site facility is complete, classes will be held at Aviator College across from Gateway Airport on Dyer Boulevard.
Many features of the new school were modeled after an aviation charter school in Lakeland called Florida Aerospace Academy. The Kissimmee campus will give students a similar chance to earn Federal Aviation Association credentials and a private pilot license by the time they graduate high school.
It will include instructors with industry experience and a college feeder track so students can smoothly transition from high school to a bachelor’s degree program.
Melissa March, president of a nonprofit group called the TCE Foundation, discussed the school at a recent Kissimmee Commission meeting.
She emphasized the value of creating a skilled labor force for the aviation field.
“You’ll read in article after article that there’s a shortage of mechanics and pilots within this industry, and if something is not done in the next five years, we face a major transportation issue,” March said.
Charter schools, although privately funded, still follow certain public school regulations, including statewide graduation requirements. The academy is free to all students accepted into the program.
Private donors are expected to invest $30 to $40 million to the school, and fundraisers are still being held to raise capital.
Mayor Jose Alvarez has been a major advocate and supporter of bringing the aviation school to Kissimmee for years.
Alvarez said he wanted to give Osceola County students a chance to learn about a rapidly growing industry in need of smart, young workers.
“The reason I continued to push for this is I was tired of seeing kids dropping out of high school,” Alvarez said. “When something good is in front of you, you can’t leave it alone because you know it’s going to help those kids.”
March said the school plans to host open house events each month until the school opens in August.