Op-Ed: Port Authority and York College collaboration paves the way for career opportunities in aviation

The Port Authority’s $19 billion JFK redevelopment project is building new state-of-the-art terminals and career paths for the youth of southeast Queens in collaboration with York College.
Photo courtesy of the Port Authority

With air travel projected to double over the next two decades, the construction of a new world-class airport at JFK is a welcome sight. But creating a great new airport to meet the needs of the future will take more than just concrete and steel – it will require a new generation of professionals trained for the rapidly evolving aviation industry of the 21st century.

And where better to find and nurture that next generation of trained professionals than in JFK’s backyard right here in Southeast Queens, where over the next four years we will provide aviation-focused STEM education programs to more than 2,500 students through a collaboration between the Port Authority and York College at the City University of New York, with the support of the JFK Redevelopment terminal developers – New Terminal One, Delta Air Lines, JFKIAT, JFK Millennium Partners and American Airlines. 

The Aviation and Aeronautics Academy at York College is one of many initiatives identified by the JFK Redevelopment Community Advisory Council, chaired by Rep. Gregory Meeks and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. The Council was launched by the Port Authority in 2018 as an integral part of the $19 billion redevelopment of JFK to ensure that the communities that have hosted the airport for decades finally receive an equitable portion of the economic benefits the airport generates. To that end, paving the way to good-paying career opportunities for our community’s children is a top priority.

Launched last fall, the academy is providing weekend programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that are focused on aviation and aeronautics for students in grades 1 through 12. Nearly 300 students participated in both the fall and spring semesters.  A summer program will include sessions five days a week, ranging from four to six weeks,  depending on a student’s age. High school students who enroll in the summer program will receive a $1,200 stipend and earn college credits.

Academy students will explore all the possibilities that a career in aviation offers with the college’s state-of-the-art flight simulator on campus and a varied curriculum that includes hands-on activities related to aviation, science, finance, economics, mathematics, cybersecurity, computer science, drones and robotics, varying by age group. The academy is opening a window of opportunity in a world many local youngsters may never have imagined possible for jobs in demand now and for others on the horizon.

As air travel continues to grow, so does the demand for pilots, air traffic controllers, technicians, maintenance engineers, data analysts, drone pilots, cybersecurity experts and AI specialists, among many other professions. While the demand for skilled professionals in aviation and aerospace has never been stronger, communities of color, and women, represent a disproportionately small part of that workforce. For example, today, in the United States, 93% of professional pilots are white, and 92 percent are men. This imbalance is not only unjust, it’s also untenable for an industry in desperate need of aviation and airport professionals. The Federal Aviation Administration and industry stakeholders project they will need at least 2 million more employees in aviation and aerospace over the next 20 years.

Affording students from neighborhoods surrounding JFK the chance to learn more about aviation and aerospace through STEM programs will help break down barriers to diversify these industries.  It will also drive a more equitable share of opportunities to communities that have suffered the burden of having an airport on their doorsteps for more than 75 years. For thousands of youngsters, the academy will serve as the launchpad for the dreams and aspirations of a new and more diverse generation of students, leading to careers that can uplift entire communities.


*Alicia L. Hyndman is a member of the New York State Assembly, representing Southeast Queens. Dr. Claudia Schrader is the interim president of York College. They serve as co-chairs of the JFK Redevelopment Community Advisory Council Education Committee.