Soaring Higher and Higher
For the third straight year, the Port of South Louisiana and the non-profit ‘Guys Achieving Goals’ successfully put on Aviation Awareness Day, giving kids hands-on experience regarding where flying might take them – both today and in the future.
In what is fast becoming a mark-your-calendar event for those in the River Parishes, hundreds of area youths and their families took part in the third annual Aviation Awareness Day at the Port of South Louisiana Executive Airport on April 20, 2019.
Pilots of various disciplines — some former military aviators, some current commercial aviators of both planes and helicopters — mentored those in attendance, shedding light on the various career avenues available in aviation (beyond just being a pilot) and hammered home the importance of excelling in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education once they reach high school. But, of course, the highlight of Aviation Awareness Day has been, and remains, the eye-opening, smile-inducing, horizon-expanding, free-of-charge rides the kids can enjoy in a variety of aircraft.
“Our goal each and every year — the origin of all this — is to showcase aviation to those who have never seen it showcased before and lay it out as a possible career path,” said Paul Green of Guys Achieving Goals, the non-profit organizer of Aviation Awareness Day. “To see the growth in the number of planes that come, the number of sponsors that want to be a part of this and the turnouts we get, it just shows to us that we’re steadily accomplishing what we set out to accomplish with Aviation Awareness.”
This year, the 200 kids in attendance rode an array of general aviation aircraft, including a single-engine Cessna 172 — a plane many aviation experts dub the most successful plane in aircraft history because of the units sold and the longevity of production — the twin-engine monoplane Cessna 310, and several models of Piper planes. Before and after takeoff, the volunteer pilots gladly answered questions from the kids they shuttled up in the sky.
“Not only have many of these kids never flown in a plane before, most don’t know and have never met a pilot in real life before,” Green said. “You know that takes me back to my experience, because for me as a young man growing up in St. John Parish, I never met a pilot until I joined the Navy and got into helicopters. But kids shouldn’t have to wait that long, so that’s our mission — for kids to at least have the opportunity to look into aviation and see if it’s something for them.”
Roy Quezaire, Port Deputy Director, said the event has become instrumental in showing kids that there are resources available that can help them achieve their dreams, should they decide that a career in aviation is right for them.
“The annual Aviation Awareness Day is increasingly becoming a serious connector between aspirations and possibilities, as it engages the youthful minds of our children into the various dynamics of the aviation industry from an I-can-do-also perspective,” he said.
“The Port and the airport there have helped tremendously,” Green said. “I remember the first time we talked about doing this with (Port of South Louisiana) Paul Aucoin and Roy Quezaire; they were more excited about it than some of the kids that go up in the airplanes. They said, ‘Let’s make this happen,’ and they have. As a sponsor, they’ve provided the fuel for these rides to off-set the costs for these pilots that bring their planes, so that alone has been a tremendous help.”
While not the Port’s main intention when it unveiled its multi-phased, multi-million-dollar Airport improvement campaign roughly a decade ago, having a more modern, up-to-date aviation complex — capable of hosting community outreach events like Aviation Awareness Day and last year’s historic Ford Tri-Motor Tour — has been a pleasant consequence of that investment.
“There’s no doubt this is an exciting event for the community and that’s what I like about it — it’s a big community event,” Aucoin said. “We just think it’s a wonderful thing to introduce people to aviation, and it gives us a great opportunity to let the community know we’re here and we’re a part of the community and we serve the community — with the airport and with everything the Port does. It shows the airport can not only serve the needs of those who do business here but can be used to serve the community — in this case, educating kids and their parents and introducing them to aviation.”
At the end of the day, Quezaire said the most rewarding aspect of the event — in addition to demonstrating the possibilities and opportunities available at the Port — is seeing the reaction from the young attendees.
“It’s such an honor, privilege and joy to conduct the post-flight exit interviews with the children and hear their individual comments of joy, happiness and excitement as they’ve experienced the runway take-off, the gravitational impact, the wonderful and beautiful scenery from the elevation, and the reconnective landing of their plane,” he said.