Symposium: Flight Plan For Careers in Aviation
As a young boy growing up in the high desert town of Palmdale in the early 1960s, Willie Daniels knew he wanted to fly airplanes.
“I got the bug to fly back when I was About 5 or 6 years old. At the airshows, I would see these guys flying and jumping out and parachuting out of the airplanes. I thought that was fascinating.”
Decades later, in 1986, Daniels achieved his dream of becoming a pilot. He retired from United Airlines after 42 years of service. As a way of passing on the same career opportunity he had to future generations, Daniels founded Shades of Blue in 1999. The aviation training program builds a foundation for young people interested in aviation and aerospace careers. The program tracks its students from middle school through college, helps them obtain their pilots license and navigate the airline’s hiring process. NASA pilot and astronaut Victor Glover is one of the organization’s most notable members.
Shades of Blue held its second Airline Symposium of the year at San Bernardino International Airport recently. Over 200 students attended the 2-day symposium which showcased a variety of airline positions available including pilots, transportation security administration (TSA) agents, ground crew, maintenance mechanics and more. Airline personnel and flight schools were on-site to provide information on career opportunities.
According to airline industry projections, in the next 10 years there will be a worldwide shortage of 804,000 pilots, 914,000 flight attendants, 769,000 aircraft mechanics and technicians. At the present rate, airlines will need to hire an average of 14,500 new pilots each year until 2030 to get ahead of the shortage.
At the symposium, young attendees used flight simulators to fly around the world, steered miniature robotic vehicles using hand-held remote controls, learned the basics of aerodynamics by flying paper airplanes and sat in the cockpit of private airplanes. They also learned first-hand from employees the requirements and qualifications of many airline and airport positions.
Parents and students listened as Shades of Blue member Tenesha Wallace recounted her circuitous journey to become a commercial pilot after falling in love with flying at the age of 15. After running out of money five hours short of completing the requirement for a private pilot license, Wallace enlisted in the military where she served for five years and subsidized her flying lessons. Afterwards, Wallace became a flight instructor, worked for a regional airline, followed by a private corporate outfit where she flew wealthy executives around the globe. Her hard work paid off when she was hired by Delta in August 2022.
“That was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, just to get there,” said Wallace. “All the sacrifice, all the hard work, the time I put through to get there. I finally made it.”
Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson was a key partner in bringing the symposium to San Bernardino International Airport and connecting the event to the San Bernardino City Unified School District, the nonprofit Athletes for Life and Expanded Learning – Sunrise/CAPS .
Robertson has a long history of involvement with youth and aviation. Her longtime colleague Community Build, Inc. President Robert Sausedo introduced her to Daniels in 2013. The three had a shared passion for supporting youth through career training and mentoring. In 2014, as a part of the Deborah Robertson Foundation, she partnered with Daniels to produce the Rialto Aerospace Shades of Blue Academy. The eight-week training courses provided youth with the fundamentals of aviation and prepared them to earn a private pilot’s license. The academy operated for six years until forced to shut down in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Kids learn best when it’s hands-on and there was plenty of hands-on learning here. These kids and their parents are going to remember this.” Mayor Robertson said. “I feel proud to once again host a Shades of Blue aviation event. I feel like we’ve come full circle.”
Shades of Blue aviation symposium partners included San Bernardino International Airport, San Bernardino Valley College Aeronautics, Mt. San Antonio College, STEM Pilot, Athletes for Life, Deborah Roberts Foundation, Marcus Heart Foundation, Community Build, Inc., Expanded Learning, Texas Instruments, Porpoise Robotics, Southern California Association of Governments, and California Baptist University.
The next Shades of Blue Aviation Symposium will be in Ontario in November followed by Los Angeles. For more information on Shades of Blue, visit ourshadesofblue.org.