Simplified: As demand for workers in aviation increases, Sioux Falls-area schools are giving students more opportunities to prepare for a future career as a pilot. And those opportunities are about to see a big increase with an influx of federal grant money.

Why it matters

  • The job outlook for pilots – as well as other aviation-related careers like flight attendants, mechanics, air traffic control, etc. – is "phenomenal," according to Sioux Falls aviation teacher Laureen Mehlert, who teaches kids from various regional schools at the Career and Technical Education Academy (CTE).
  • The Innovation Equipment Grants, which are awarded by the state but using federal money, will bring an additional nearly $368,000 to the Sioux Falls area to get more aviation equipment for both the Sioux Falls and Tea Area School Districts.
  • The Tea program is focused on building middle schoolers' interest in a potential aviation career with , and in Sioux Falls, students will actually be able to earn flight hours before they graduate with new FAA-approved simulators.
"These are the professional-level simulators that you will find in flight schools all over the country," Mehlert said.

Tell me more about the simulators

In Sioux Falls, the professional-quality simulators are the same ones students will encounter if they go on to study aviation in college at South Dakota State University, the University of North Dakota and other flight schools across the country, Mehlert said.

  • The simulator is basically a set of flight controls in front of three large screens designed to give the pilot-in-training an immersive flying experience.
  • Each one costs about $77,000, and the grant will allow Sioux Falls schools to purchase three of them.

The simulators in Tea have a similar set-up at a lower price point. Their $118,000 grant will cover the purchase of 10 simulators, expected to be able to serve 30-person classes.

"Essentially it looks kind of like a cockpit," Middle School Assistant Principal Allison Bertram said.

What happens next?

The plan in Tea is to have the simulators in place by next fall, Bertram said, and Mehlert said Sioux Falls could have them in as early as March 1.

Tea Middle School Principal Mike Bullis said he's grateful for the opportunity to give students a real, hands-on experience in a potential future career field.

"I think sometimes we can be surprised at what our kids are capable of and what their interests are," Bullis said. "This is an opportunity to really challenge kids to think beyond what computers can be used for."