CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — With a nationwide pilot shortage continuing to affect scheduling, West Michigan Aviation Academy’s graduates are gearing up to join a demanding workforce.

Students who chose the school’s pilot program can graduate high school with their private pilot license. In addition to their elective courses, students have to log at least four hours of in-flight training and be at least 17-years-old to test for their license.

“That (Federal Aviation Administration) certification follows them,” said George Pavey, dean of Aviation and Engineering. “Though a private pilot is not someone who can go out and earn money, a private pilot license is required as the first step for any professional pilot.”

Several major carriers have cut service to smaller towns over the past year to account for staffing shortages. Additionally, airlines have added pay raises and signing bonuses in recent months to recruit future employees.

Students like Aubrey Bogardus would never have been exposed to a world of flying if it weren’t for the academy.

“The first flight I took I was like, ‘Yep; this is what I want to do,'” she said.

Pavey says flying is a passion-oriented industry. He says he can tell when a student connects with flight.

“What it does is that it opens the door of possibility for students,” he said. “Quite frankly, at most schools kids don’t even know that opportunities like this exist.”

West Michigan Aviation Academy is a tuition-free public charter high school for grades 9-12. It opened its doors in 2010. Some of its first graduates are now flying for commercial airlines out of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.