Fly Ottumwa airshow aims to inspire future pilots, aid worldwide pilot shortage

Hope is to get young people interested in taking flight

Aviation pilot student Levi Riddick (left) of Eddyville, Iowa, checks the operation of an aileron of a Piper Warrior II
Aviation pilot student Levi Riddick (left) of Eddyville, Iowa, checks the operation of an aileron of a Piper Warrior II aircraft as he performs a pre-flight inspection outside of the hangar at Indian Hills Community College's north campus near the Ottumwa Regional Airport in Ottumwa, Iowa, on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

OTTUMWA — Officials in a small Iowa community steeped in aviation history hope to help address a worldwide shortage of pilots and aircraft maintenance professionals.

Organizers with Fly Ottumwa, an air show at the Ottumwa Regional Airport, say the answer is simple: get more young people interested in the field of aviation.

To do that, the Aug. 24-26 air show will include Legacy Education Day — a full day committed to connecting aspiring pilots with some of the aviation industry’s greatest pilots.

“We believe this is the first time anything like this has been done before,” said Isaac Campbell, digital media specialist with Fly Ottumwa. “By opening this up, we’re really trying to turn this into a solution for a global issue.”


Eastern Iowa Airport officials have said the national airline industry is expected to be short about 5,000 pilots by 2021, which will keep about 500 aircraft out of the skies. By 2026 the shortage is forecast to reach 15,000 pilots and about 1,500 grounded planes.

The pilot shortage is driven by several factors, including federal regulations on the aviation industry and a growing number of pilots reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 — paired with low nationwide recruitment and increased air travel.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association last fall predicted worldwide passengers to reach 7.8 billion people by 2036 — nearly doubling the approximately 4 billion air travelers last year.


According Boeing’s pilot and technician outlook for 2018 to 2037, the global demand for new pilots will reach 790,000 over the next 20 years.

The growing demand for pilots can be felt in just about every sector of the industry.

Major commercial airlines are hiring regional pilots to address their needs. This, in turn, leaves regional airlines — which make up almost 80 percent of all air services in Iowa — filling their own gaps. Both regional and commercial airlines also look to private and charter companies to secure qualified pilots.

Darren Graham, chief flight instructor and department chair with Indian Hills Community College, said the demand for pilots often brings recruiters to colleges looking for young pilots.

Companies try to sweeten the pot with pay increases and signing bonuses — average pay for a first officer pilot climbed more than 150 percent between 2014 and 2016, according to the Regional Airline Association.

However, the association also reports that overall recruiting success declined in the same three-year span.

And the demand doesn’t stop at pilots. In the next two decades, the global market will need 754,000 new aviation technicians and 890,000 cabin crew members, according to the Boeing report.

Graham said schools need to step up their efforts to get more students into the classroom. Showing aspiring young pilots and aviation technicians more about the industry, the demand for a workforce and the variety of career options could be the key to addressing the pilot shortage, he said.


“That’s where we as a school and aviation community need to come into place and try to broaden the horizon of some of these students and make them aware that there are very good opportunities in aviation,” Graham said.


However, getting high school students excited about a job isn’t always easy.

That’s where the airshot comes in.

“If we didn’t have some of these airshows, we wouldn’t be able to attract students or future pilots. They just wouldn’t see all this going on and realize that it’s not that hard of a thing for them to be part of,” Graham said.

Organizers say they’ve pulled out all the stops for Fly Ottumwa, which was born after the success of Fly Iowa’s stop in the community last year. While Fly Iowa rotates to a new community each year, Ottumwa officials decided to carry on with their own flight program.

The Ottumwa Naval Air Station — celebrating the 75th anniversary of it’s commissioning in 1943 — seemed like the perfect fit for a premier event focused on flight. The station was decommissioned in 1947 but was transitioned for civilian use and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Special this year, however, is the introduction of the Legacy Education Day, which will give between 150 to 200 Iowa high school students firsthand access to some of the most talented pilots in the world.

“It just seemed logical to a few of us that we put this together and give the opportunity to high school students to learn a little bit more about aviation, with the hopes that some of them will get excited about the program,” said Pam Kaupins, operations director with the Fly Ottumwa Airshow.

Scheduled pilots include Matt Younkins, Skip Stewart, Kyle Franklin, Susan Dacy, Mike Vaknin and Erik Edgren.

“These are highly trained, highly skilled pilots at the top of their profession, doing things that are almost beyond the laws of physics,” Campbell said.


The professional pilots will perform for attendees on Saturday and Sunday, but before that, they will meet with students and provide a personal mini airshow. Students also will get an up close look at a U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog, take a look at the miniature RC aircrafts for the jet rally, and tour Indian Hills Community College’s aviation flight and maintenance programs.

Program officials said the addition of Dacy, one of just a handful of airshow biplane pilots, could help appeal to young women interested in the aviation field.

“How powerful is that?” said Kelly Genners, vice president of programs and initiatives with Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation. “The labor that we’re going to need to fill these careers ... we have to make sure that all of our students are exposed to those opportunities.”

Less than 5 percent of all commercial pilots were women in 2016, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Last year, women made up just about 7 percent of all pilots.

With women underrepresented in the aviation field, Genners and Graham said it’s all the more important to reach out to that untapped workforce.

“It is kind of a male-dominated field, so we’re always looking at ways to expand that as well,” Graham said.

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What: Fly Ottumwa Airshow

When: Aug. 24-26. Gates open from 4 to 11:50 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Where: Ottumwa Regional Airport, 14802 Terminal St., Ottumwa

Cost: $15 for a weekend pass or $10 for a daily pass. Children 12 and under get in free.

Events: Friday’s Night Flight includes a night air show and musical performances by Fast Henry, Mr. Fugly, The Boys, Leonard Brothers Band and Hypersona. Saturday and Sunday events include Fly Ottumwa national RC jet rally, an aircraft show and full airshow including the Flash Jet Truck, Aeroshell, a P-51 Mustang, U. S. Air Force A-10 Demo Team, and pilots Matt Younkins, Skip Stewart, Kyle Franklin, Susan Dacy, Mike Vaknin and Erik Edgren.


Legacy Education Day

When: 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 24

Cost: The event is free for registered high school students.


Details: Visit to register or call 641-777-6615 for more information. Registration deadline is Monday.

The event includes:

• A history of the Ottumwa Naval Air Station

• A corporate jet career display

• Meet with aerobatic pilot Kyle Franklin

• National RC jet rally

• Meet with aerobatic pilot Susan Dacy

• Meet and tour of U. S. Air Force A-10 demo team

• Personal mini air show

• Tour of Indian Hills Community College’s aviation flight and maintenance program

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