A surge in activity at flight schools is sending a strong message to local operators: Gear up for sales and instruction or lose out.
New general aviation aircraft are being manufactured that will change the complexion of aviation in Alaska, triggering different maintenance schedules and installation of very high-tech avionics, according to statewide aviation businesses.
But besides the equipment, one flight school owner said the future will hold something very different from the past -- more women pilots.
"With the current shortage of pilots for the airlines to draw from, we are experiencing a large influx of interest in flying here," said Ramona Ardiz, co-owner of Aero Tech Flight School at Merrill Field. "And you would be surprised at the gender. We are getting more women every day that are interested in learning to fly for a career."
The reason, according to Ardiz, is that as pilots women will likely get equal treatment during a time of high demand.
Dick and Ramona Ardiz have been in business in Anchorage since 1955. "I think Alaska has a very strong future in aviation," said Ramona Ardiz. "But we always have. I quit counting how many people we taught to fly when the number hit 14,000 sometime in the early 1960s."
Women pilots are nothing new in Alaska, according to Ruth Jefford, the first woman flight instructor at Merrill Field who also operated International Air Taxi at Anchorage International Airport.
"I think women make better flight instructors. They are more patient than men," said Jefford. "I never really had any problems with the sexuality issue. As long as people got there safely no one cared that I was a woman pilot."
Jefford’s opinion appears to be shared by others. Just recently the Federal Aviation Administration awarded Charlotte Luckett of Palmer’s Mustang Air the Flight Instructor of the Year award.