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Published on 9/30/2019
Hundreds of Colorado high school students will get a taste of flight this fall: Three nonprofits and Aspen public schools teamed up to offer lessons for all.

Aspen High School is one of more than 160 schools across the country currently teaching AOPA’s High School Aviation STEM Curriculum. In Aspen, the district is taking it one important step beyond the classroom: In an effort to offer practical experience and inspire even more students to pursue jobs in aviation, the Aspen Flight Academy, Aspen Education Foundation, Aspen School District, and the BettyFlies Foundation teamed up to provide a free flight lesson to every Aspen High School student. The Every Student Flies program will share the freedom of flight with 556 aspiring pilots, and is made possible by funds donated to each of the nonprofits. The money raised helps cover the cost of training aircraft, simulators, and any other associated program costs.

Suzanne Pfister, president of the BettyFlies Foundation, believes the Every Student Flies program could make a real difference in the lives of these young students. Pfister’s nonprofit foundation provides opportunities for youth in memory of her mother, Betty Haas Pfister, Aspen’s aviatrix hero and a member of the World War II Women Airforce Service Pilots.
“Betty was a trailblazer in the true sense of the word,” said Pfister. “She was a flight enthusiast who thought ‘outside the box’ in all her endeavors.”

Every student—even those not enrolled in the high school aviation STEM curriculum—will be offered a free flight lesson with an instructor in a Diamond DA40 aircraft. Following the flight lesson, students will be given a tour of the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport’s air traffic control tower, and tours of local businesses on the airfield. Students will also be provided information about how to further pursue opportunities and careers within the aviation industry.

Michael Pearce, a Boeing 777 pilot for American Airlines and president of the Aspen Flight Academy’s board of directors, spearheaded the effort to see every student offered a free flight lesson.

“We are excited to launch this one-of-a-kind program to offer every Aspen High School student the chance to experience flight and learn about careers in aviation,” said Pearce. “Our hope is that other public high schools across the country will be excited about our program and look into doing the same in their communities.”

A 10-year and approximately $11 million agreement between Aspen Flight Academy and Diamond Aircraft CEO Scott McFadzean also helped make this endeavor possible. Two DA40-NG model airplanes will be provided to the academy each year for 10 years, ensuring Aspen High School students will be learning to fly in new, top-of-the-line trainers, with cutting-edge safety components and technology on board.

“Encouraging young talent in aviation is a cause we truly believe in at Diamond Aircraft,” said McFadzean. “Every Student Flies is a powerful initiative that will positively impact many young lives and our industry for years to come.”

Several other leaders will also play a big part in the program’s success: Kate Short, a private pilot with CFI and multiengine instrument ratings, has her hands full. Not only does she teach AOPA’s High School Aviation STEM curriculum at Aspen High School, she is also the director of aviation for the Aspen School District and is managing the Every Student Flies program. Her background in teaching and aviation is ideal.

“This program is unique in that we are able to offer these experiences to public high school students at no cost to their families,” said Short. “In addition to the free flight, we offer three aviation courses at Aspen High School to provide interested students even greater knowledge towards a future career in aviation.”

Short recently reported that the first month of flight lesson slots is already full. Teachers and administrators will also have a chance to experience flying, and 20 have already been up for a lesson.

The You Can Fly program and the Air Safety Institute are funded by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. To be a part of the solution, visit