Jan. 3, 2018
More than two decades ago, when Linda Castner took over as co-operator and owner of her family airport – New Jersey’s Alexandria Field (N85) – she soon realized the importance of explaining the role of the small, privately owned, public-use general aviation airport as a community asset with positive economic and social impacts.
Over the years, Castner has achieved that recognition in part by tapping into the increasing focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, to the benefit of the local community, area-wide schools and students, and to N85.
“With the overall number of pilots decreasing, and with girls still not getting into aviation in significant numbers, I wanted to empower women to get involved, as well as reach out to minorities and others who might be new to aviation,” said Castner. “Our emphasis on STEM activities has also provided new revenue-producing activities for our airport.”
In 2010-11, Castner launched a year-long grant-funded $100,000 demonstration. During that period, the grant funding, $50,000 of in-kind donations and hundreds of hours contributed by volunteers, evolved into more than 20 programs, many of them targeted to women and minorities, and attended by more than 1,500 students.
The programs included two forums; three presentations at state and national meetings; one 12-month small business airport internship; 11 one-day job-shadowing opportunities; 18 scholarships, including 12 for introductory flights, four for private pilot ground school and two for STEM courses at a local community college; and a two-month internship on a Boeing 727 reuse project.
“We promoted diversity in STEM fields in addition to providing STEM education,” said Castner.
Subsequent to the grant-funded efforts, Castner founded Up, Up, and Away in Hunterdon, Inc., which expanded on the grant. “The most successful Up, Up and Away program is Living Labs, where busloads of middle school students come to the airport for a variety of two-hour labs on topics such as what makes an airplane fly and aviation weather,” said Castner.
Alexandria Field also has benefitted from an on-site aviation science club, public events, airport tours, aviation educations camps, take flight workshops, living labs, and more.
Castner’s colleague, pilot Rich Stowell, is demonstrating the viability of the Up, Up and Away program in Idaho, where he is developing partnerships with stakeholders as diverse as the Idaho Division of Aeronautics, the Idaho Aviation Association, Boise State University, the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium and 4-H Extensions in Idaho and Oregon.
“One result has been the formation of an Aerospace Career Exploration (ACE) Academy Network that will deliver academies simultaneously at seven locations in the region in 2018,” said Stowell.
The No Plane No Gain advocacy campaign, jointly sponsored by NBAA and GAMA, promotes the value of business aviation in supporting high-skill career paths, like those in STEM-related professions promoted via the various programs at Alexandria Field.