Clear Skies Ahead

Zach Smith, 17, a Southwest Learning Center student, pilots a Cessna 172 on a cross country flight from Double Eagle Airport to Grants Airport on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

The sluggish economy and high unemployment are leaving many young people with slim job prospects.

But not in aviation, according to local business owners.

John Uczekaj, the president of Aspen Avionics, said he has trouble finding and recruiting qualified students with a passion for planes.

That’s why he’s excited for the Southwest Aeronautics, Mathematics and Science Academy to open in the fall. The charter school, which has been approved by the state Public Education Department, will integrate aviation into every aspect of the curriculum and allow students to gain experience by flying planes. The school is approved to serve about 220 students in grades 7-12. It is one of just four high schools nationwide on the Federal Aviation Administration database that has a flight training component.

Smith does a pre-flight inspection of the Cessna 172.

The school, which will be known as SAMS, was proposed and founded by Scott Glasrud, who heads Southwest Learning Centers charter schools. Southwest Learning Centers, which is actually three schools in one building, offers flying as an extracurricular activity that has been popular with students and their families.

Glasrud said SAMS will be more focused on aviation throughout the day, rather than offering it as an extra to interested students at Southwest Learning Centers.

“Projects will talk about lift, drag, the Bernoulli principle, how they apply in an aviation context,” Glasrud said, adding that other possible subjects include weather modeling and forecasting. “We’re hoping to really tie in what they’re doing in the classroom to future jobs.”

Glasrud said the school will be near Double Eagle Airport on the West Side, and that about 70 applications have already been submitted. The school will have its first lottery drawing in March. Although the school is free to attend as a public charter school, flight lessons will cost families about $4,580, including all lessons, fuel and materials.

A comparable program would cost about $12,000 through a private instructor, Glasrud said. The school also will not provide school lunch or breakfast.


Smith looks over a check list as he prepares to land at Double Eagle Airport.

Uczekaj, who has partnered with SAMS and pledged to provide internship opportunities and other support, said he hopes the school will provide a pipeline of young aviators. The industry needs jobs in many areas, not just pilots, he said.

“We’re trying to drive as many people into the aerospace industry as possible, whether they be pilots, engineers, in manufacturing or whatever. We want to push aviation as a career path for students,” Uczekaj said. “We feel lucky in that Albuquerque has something like SAMS in our neighborhood.”

Glasrud will continue as the head of Southwest Learning Centers, and will hire a separate principal for SAMS. He said he will be involved in SAMS and will draw an annual salary of $1 so he can retain authority to sign for the school.