An Ace in the Hole

Ryan Lynch knew that he wanted to be a pilot at age 5 and started flying at age 14. “When I was in high school and college, there weren’t any programs that introduced youth into the field of aviation.” Now a captain with Republic Airlines, Lynch solved the problem by starting Aviation Career Education, a summer program for students to learn more about the various careers

in the field. The Indianapolis Airport Authority is one of the sponsors.

“We focus on all jobs and careers in aviation, not just being a mechanic or pilot,” Lynch said.

Students can learn more about how airplanes work, the role of the Federal Aviation Administration and what it takes to keep a terminal humming. The program – one week for younger children and two weeks for high-schoolers – ends with a graduation flight.

Lynch has run his program in Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., before moving to Indianapolis. Now in its 16th season, ACE has educated more than 10,000 students – and more than 7,500 have pursued careers in aviation. He has had six who now work alongside him as Republic pilots.

The camp is just the beginning of the relationship with students. “At the end of the camp, we say, ‘What is your career path?’ and we help them move forward into scholarships and information on schools that have programs related to their interest,” he said.

And while it is hard to compete with the thrill of the flight, the terminal tour is a big hit. “When they walk into the terminal, there is an excitement there. They get to see the planes and to talk to upper level management, to get mentorship and learn how to get started in their careers. Getting to connect with upper leadership is something the kids really like.”

A program like ACE is needed now more than ever, Lynch said. “In the past, there wasn’t the support that there is now. Now, because of retirements, the industry as a whole is getting more of an interest to help get the younger generation on board.”