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‘Taking Off’: Two Moss Point Students Excel in Inaugural Aviation Academy

A man in a suit stands beside two younger men. A white and red airplane is behind them.
Moss Point School District Superintendent Oswego Harper, middle, and district officials spent more than a year building the foundation for Mississippi’s first Career and Technical Education Aviation Academy located in Moss Point, Miss. 

Two Moss Point High School students are months away from earning their private pilot’s license through an innovative partnership between the Moss Point School District and Aspire Aviation. The Moss Point Career and Technical Education Center is now home to Mississippi’s first Career and Technical Education Aviation Academy.

Moss Point High School buses juniors James Spain II and Linal Tickles to the Trent Lott International Airport for flight lessons each school day, where they earn Career and Technical Education credits for the almost two-hour class block.

“They are starting to pick up some of the finer skills of flying and getting to the point where they are pretty much taking off all by themselves, taxiing around and starting to make radio calls,” Aspire Aviation owner Quinton Dupper said. “They are really excelling. We have got two really smart students, and they are really putting a lot of focus and attention into their flight skills. We are very excited.”

Moss Point Superintendent Oswago Harper said plans for the program began in the 2021-2022 school year when he and the executives at the airport began discussing opportunities for area students. The district spent more than a year and a half ensuring compliance with Mississippi Department of Education requirements and obtaining the proper insurance. Moss Point School District invested about $40,000 to begin the program.

Initially, eight to 10 students expressed interest in the program. Those students participated in discovery flights and other conversations to gauge their fit. Spann and Tickles excelled in each area and were selected to participate in the program, which officially began in January 2024. They are scheduled to graduate high school with their pilot’s licenses.

“The goal is to try to get these students in at around 16 (during their) sophomore or junior year, and then have them kind of completing the program when they’re turning 17 or 18,” Dupper said.

The Federal Aviation Administration allows students to fly solo beginning at age 16. Students can test for the pilot’s license at 17. Candidates for a pilot’s license must complete a 50-to-60-hour online course component to prepare for the written exam, then participate in another 70 to 100 hours of ground school, applying the principles learned for the written exam to their specific airport and aircraft. Once they have mastered the concepts of ground school, they may begin earning flight hours.

Three people are seen inside a small white and red airplane
Juniors James Spain II and Linal Tickles take flight lessons from instructors at Aspire Aviation each school day. They are on track to earn their pilot’s license next year. Photo courtesy Moss Point School District / Facebook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that overall employment of commercial pilots is projected to grow 4% from 2022 to 2032 with an average of about 16,800 openings projected each year over the next 10 years.

“With the expansion of aviation and also an aging pilot generation (who) are all going to retire, plus extra jobs coming up, the outlook is just incredible,” Dupper said. “And the pay is there for them as well.”

BLS lists the median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers at $211,790 and the median annual wage for commercial pilots at $103,910 in May 2022. Pilots must earn 1,500 hours of flight time before flying for a major airline.

Spann and Tickles are on pace to graduate the program with about 50 to 65 hours of flight time. They will also have the opportunity to earn their instrument license and commercial pilots license.

Dupper said the students are hoping to become certified flight instructors to teach and earn flight time. Aspire Aviation operates a certified flight school located at Trent Lott International Airport just off Saracennia Road in Moss Point. The airport is home to charter companies including corporate clients such as Northrop Grumman, Chevron and Omega Protein.

“When (they) are working as a flight instructor, they are going to be able to teach others—hopefully, the next two or three generations of this program,” Dupper said. “They’ll essentially be teaching the next generation of Moss Point students and through teaching them they’re also getting to build hours in the aircraft.”

Both Dupper and Harper would like to see the program grow both in Moss Point and across the state in the coming years.

“Fortunately Moss Point has some really brilliant students there, and we would love to see this program grow from two to four to six to 10 students,” Dupper said. “And then it’s definitely not out of the option to see this expand across Mississippi.”

Harper said other schools and districts have already reached out to him as they look to start similar programs.

“(We are) excited, of course, that Moss Point School District, Moss Point High School could actually be a forerunner in something like this,” Harper said. “A lot of school districts, even along the Gulf Coast, are excited about it. This, of course, will be a springboard for other school districts to tap into this program and provide that opportunity for their children as well.”

The aviation academy offers another post-high school option for students. Harper has made connections with Delta State University, which has one of the premier aviation programs in Mississippi. In the coming months, the two schools will discuss options for students to matriculate from Moss Point’s program to the one at DSU if they chose to do so.

“There’s nothing like experiences, and one of the things that we’re striving to do in the Moss Point School District is really give our children experiences outside the walls of the school,” Harper said. “We just want to make sure that we’re tapping into all of the opportunities and giving our children every opportunity to be successful in their future endeavors.”

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