Sometimes it really is good to be the biggest airplane in the pattern. Just ask the JetBlue Airways crew who brought a company Airbus A321 into Sun ’n’ Fun on April 2, as part of an airlift of teenagers and 20-somethings, all students or up-and-coming pilots, dispatchers and mechanics (and more) participating in JetBlue’s high school outreach, Gateway and College Crew programs around the country.
JetBlue CEO David Barger and chief people officer, Joanna Geraghty, who is also president of the JetBlue Foundation, were onboard the flight to present a grant for $25,000 to the Polk Aviation Alliance on the ramp at Sun ’n’ Fun. The aviation alliance will use the funds to purchase equipment for teaching aviation maintenance at Central Florida Aerospace Academy high school and Polk State College, both of which have campuses located on the grounds of Lakeland Linder Airport.
“We are looking to the future to grow a whole new crop of aviation professionals in all disciplines,” Geraghty told AIN. She expects the foundation to award up to $100,000 in grants this year alone to forward-looking aviation initiatives, focusing on high school and college programs.
Gateway is JetBlue’s program for recruiting pilots and professionals for future hires. Students are mentored through their undergraduate years by JetBlue mentors. Pilots flight instruct, then are mainstreamed into crew positions at either Expressjet or Cape Air. After they have the requisite pilot-in-command time in their logbooks they are invited to interview for crew positions at JetBlue Airways.
“It’s a seven- to eight-year process,” explained JetBlue captain Eric Poole, Gateway project manager. “And we are with them every step of the way to help motivate and focus them.” A part of that program is the College Crew internship experience. JetBlue hires 80 percent of the students who participate in that program directly into dispatch, crew management, route management and finance at the company.
“We’ve received upwards of 100,000 applications for employment at JetBlue in a year,” said Barger, addressing the crowd at Sun ’n’ Fun. “But that’s OK, because just this year we expect to create nearly 1,000 positions,” he smiled confidently, waving his hand at the crowd of students and teachers he’d just brought to the show. If he has his way, the Foundation created by his company should help fill those positions with qualified professionals for years to come.