Students take to the sky as LaGrange College kicks off its aviation program

Published 2:30 pm Thursday, July 20, 2023

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Potential pilots rejoice as LaGrange College will soon begin teaching flying classes as part of its new aviation program.

On Wednesday, the college officially kicked off the program by hosting an Aviation Day with a ribbon cutting at the LaGrange-Callaway Airport.

Students at the school will soon be able to enroll in the new aviation minor. Several potential students could join an instructor for a free flight lesson.

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Classes will be offered through Paragon Flight Training, based in Fort Myers, Florida. The company will maintain a local office at the airport.

The program begins with the fall semester and will provide training for commercial pilot licensing using four Cessna Skyhawks and a flight simulator on campus. Undergraduates will learn skills for careers as airline pilots, private charter pilots, or cargo pilots.

“Over 600,000 pilots are projected to retire in the next 20 years and starting today LaGrange College is stepping up to help prepare pilots. Students graduating from LaGrange College will not only have a high-quality liberal arts degree, but an option to minor in aviation, which provides resources to earn a license to be a private or commercial pilot,” LaGrange College President Susanna Baxter said.

Baxter said the college received 58 applications for the new aviation minor on Friday.

“On Friday, I also signed a scholarship agreement with a member of a recent class who wanted to support aviation at her alma mater and the students who would come in for years to come in that program,” Baxter said.

“The commercial pilot shortage continues to be a pressing issue in our area and the aviation industry,” LaGrange Mayor Willie Edmondson. “Over the next 15 years, more than half of the United States pilots will have reached a mandatory retirement age of 65. Certainly, this is a great time for LaGrange College to capitalize on this and to get on this in the great city of LaGrange.”

LaGrange College student Hannah Godfrey said the program is potentially a major career shift for her.

“I’m actually a senior. So, I was about to graduate and now I’m moving on to extra years,” Godfrey said. “I was on the path to law school, had taken the LSAT and all that stuff and then had a real hard gear shift.”

“Honestly, it kind of fell into my lap. There were a lot of different little signs that kept popping up. Then when they announced that it was happening and coming to LaGrange next semester, it just felt really right,” she said.

“When I started hearing about the opportunities and career growth and signing bonuses and stuff in the field, it just kind of was like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is where I want to be. This is what I want to do,’” Godfrey said, saying she wants to be a commercial pilot.

For 18-year-old Hudson Keel of Fayetteville, the program won’t be his first time flying a plane.

The teen has been flying since July of last year, saying he had been flying out of Falcon Field in Peachtree City, Georgia.

Keel said he was considering going to LaGrange College for sports aspects, and one of his friend’s mom informed him of the flight program because her son is attending the college.

During his trip up, Flight Instructor Ethan Meeks allowed Keel to fly the plane on his own for the majority of the flight due to his experience. Meeks did handle the landing, though.

“I had a blast. I think the instructor was very transparent. Some people have gifts in terms of teaching and being able to transfer information, especially flying. I think he did a good job,” Keel said.

Keel said his ultimate goal is to become a commercial pilot.