High school students have the world at their fingertips. For enrollees at Burke High School’s Air and Space Academy in Omaha, Nebraska, in partnership with Jet Linx, this has never been more true.
Through the successful partnership with the Jet Linx National Operations Center (NOC), Burke students now have direct access to exciting opportunities such as internships, mentorships and pipelines to aviation careers. Formed in 2019, the partnership has already produced many positive outcomes for both Burke and Jet Linx.
The Burke Air and Space Academy opened its doors in 2011 and has assisted countless students in pursuing careers as airplane pilots, aviation mechanics and drone pilots. About 112 students are currently enrolled in the academy, with a total of 283 students in academy classes (some as elective courses). The academy also offers opportunities to dual enroll with partner institutions, allowing students to earn college credit before enrolling at a university. Seniors can also take a class that allows for completion of the testing portion of their private pilot’s licenses, and a separate pathway allows students to gain Part 107 certification for careers as commercial drone pilots.
The facilities at the Burke Air and Space Academy are impressive, as access to industry-standard training technology comes at no cost to those enrolled. Students can access stationary flight simulators, Phantom 3 Drones, and a full-motion Redbird FMX flight simulator (an $80 per hour value).
JET LINX PROVIDES SUPPLEMENTAL LIFT TO FUTURE AVIATORS
With a projected pilot shortage on the horizon, Dee Ruleaux, Director of Human Capital Partnerships at Jet Linx, was tasked with creating career pipelines to lead young aviators onto Jet Linx flight decks. She caught wind of Burke’s Air and Space Academy and thought it would be a good program to explore – the school is located less than a mile from the National Operations Center (NOC). Impressed with the program and teachers, Ruleaux now also serves as Chair of the Burke Air and Space Academy Advisory Board.
“When I met the students and teachers, I knew we had to get involved. Support from Jet Linx not only helps them, but it’s going to aid the future of our entire industry. These students are the next generation of aviation, and we have to help them spread their wings,” Ruleaux stated.
Ruleaux recently helped to organize a trip to Southwest Airline’s headquarters in Dallas, where students received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour training facilities and interact with professionals. The Jet Linx Marketing Department at the NOC also played an instrumental role in a rebranding project that polished the Air and Space Academy’s signage, logos, and other marketing collateral. Jordan Maddex-Kopp, Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships, spearheaded the project that helped to attract more attention from prospective students and parents. “This effort gave our department a chance to interact with the leadership at the Burke Air and Space Academy, capturing their vision and casting it through the lens of two important audiences – both future students and their parents,” she said. The academy’s image has begun to take off, even receiving some national news coverage in the Washington Post.
“Our academy had a strong foundation and we were successful to begin with, but Jet Linx brought us a branding and marketing plan that allows us to get outside our own walls,” explained Andrew Brooks, Director of the Air and Space Academy at Burke High School. “Because of the Jet Linx relationship with Southwest, our students became the first ever to be flown down to their headquarters in Dallas. That’s not something we could have done by ourselves – that’s because of the help we received from Jet Linx.”
“We’ve also incorporated five core values,” Brooks shared, “which is something we borrowed directly from what we saw at Jet Linx. We’re really differentiating ourselves as a legitimate academy, and we’re getting attention. I have calls from other aviation high schools all over the country, asking me how to set up the program and how to find great partners like Jet Linx.” Brooks attends conferences across the country. He’s pleased to offer guidance to other high schools trying to create similar programs, with Burke serving as a national model. He finds hope in a network of administrators and teachers that can learn from one another, finding ways to use local companies to strengthen their programs – like Brooks has leveraged the power of Jet Linx.
Ruleaux and Brooks are working to create a mentorship program for seniors in the Air and Space Academy. “Ideally, each senior will be assigned a mentor in the aviation industry that can guide them to think about opportunities in this field. A partner like Jet Linx is an ideal place to start,” Brooks explained.
FLIGHT COORDINATION OPENS THE DOOR FOR INTERNS
In January of 2020, Jet Linx welcomed interns Tyler and Scott Swanson, both seniors from Burke High School, to the Flight Coordination Department. Sometimes referred to as the “Twin-terns,” the twin brothers are the first interns to be welcomed from Burke’s Air and Space Academy into a professional Flight Department. The twins have not yet celebrated their eighteenth birthdays, but their accomplishments in life far outnumber their years.
The twins began high school with the goal of studying medicine until they registered for a course on rocketry at the Burke Air and Space Academy. The course material clicked with them, and they quickly learned that aviation was for them. The brothers credit great facilities and teachers at Burke for changing their career trajectory.
“We enjoyed the classes because they taught us more than just facts,” Tyler Swanson revealed. “Our teachers explained how these concepts applied to aerospace. It was a different way of learning and that was what made the difference.”
The Swanson brothers sacrificed throughout high school in order to pursue their ultimate dream of becoming flight instructors and airline pilots. They realized that they needed to make a choice between pursuing sports or becoming pilots. “We played football and also did powerlifting, but we knew we had to give that up if we wanted a career as pilots,” Scott explained. “We still miss playing sports, but we know in the long term this is what’s going to benefit us. We’re willing to sacrifice right now to secure a better future in the long term.”
“When I was in high school I always dreamed of becoming an airline captain. Unfortunately, I had to wait until college to get an opportunity like that,” explained Brian Walker, Jet Linx Director of Flight Coordination. “Our partnership with Burke provides a major head start for their students. In fact, any student at Burke’s Air and Space Academy already has a leg up. I didn’t get an opportunity like that until I went to college. This academy provides a rare gift, available to very few.”
Walker immediately jumped at the idea of welcoming interns into the Flight Coordination Department. “When I heard that my team would be able to coach and mentor these two students from Burke – it was the easiest ‘yes’ I ever gave,” Walker beamed. “My entire team was very eager to take them under their wings and share as much information as possible. It’s so important to teach the younger generation.”
After interning as Jet Linx Flight Followers, the Swanson twins will graduate from Burke High School in the spring of 2020. Another plus of the Burke experience – they have already amassed enough college credit to enter the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s (UNO) Flight School as sophomores. To add to the list of achievements – both brothers earned their private pilots licenses in February of 2020.
“I remember my freshman year at Burke, a teacher explaining that there was a course where you could eventually earn your pilot’s license. I never dreamed that we would be doing this – but here we are – about to graduate from high school with our pilot’s licenses,” Scott exclaimed.
Tyler echoed his brother, “I never imagined we would be interning at a company like Jet Linx before graduating high school. The members of the Flight Coordination team have been excellent teachers for us. They come to work every day with a smile, and they’re willing to let us step in and learn.” Both of the brothers revealed that they feel comfortable reaching out to team members for guidance and support, something that is crucial to navigating opportunities in the world of aviation.
With the newly created Destination 225° program, the Swanson brothers can continue dreaming beyond high school and college. Established in 2019, Destination 225° serves as a pilot career pipeline forged between Jet Linx and Southwest Airlines that can begin as early as college through additional partners like UNO. Both Swanson brothers are now seriously considering this path as they enter college in the fall.
“We’re really proud to help these young men on their journey,” Walker emphasized. “We have built this kind of mentality into our team. We have to pay it forward to the next generation of pilots. We need young aviators like Tyler and Scott to continue to carry the torch. Luckily, we have established this great relationship with Burke and it’s paying dividends for our team and their students.”
Jet Linx takes pride in establishing pathways for young aviators. From partnering with Southwest to hiring the very best young talent, the Jet Linx team continues to work proactively to mitigate the projected pilot shortage in the future. Ruleaux, who was instrumental in creating partnerships with Southwest and the Burke Air and Space Academy, continues to work dutifully to create more opportunities for aspiring aviators.
“We see this as just the beginning,” Ruleaux pointed out. “We’ve only just formed these relationships and look at what they’ve produced. To open up these kinds of opportunities is exactly what we set out to do. As leaders in this industry, it’s important to realize that the future lies in the younger generation. When you can see that, you can create amazing opportunities.”