Students from the University of Maine at Augusta’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems course use laptops to fly a fixed-wing drone at the Brunswick Executive Airport. Edward Little High School and UMA are teaming up in September to offer a two-year aviation program for juniors and seniors.

AUBURN — Edward Little High School and the University of Maine at Augusta are teaming up in September to offer a two-year aviation program to juniors and seniors from nine area high schools.

The class is being offered in response to a shortage of pilots in Maine, according to Daniel Leclair, who teaches Unmanned Aircraft Systems at the University of Maine at Augusta and is a colonel in the Civil Air Patrol.

Leclair said by 2035 there will be a shortage of 500,000 pilots worldwide. He said it’s attributable to a number of reasons, including changes in how pilots get their certification and that many pilots are being forced to retire at age 65 due to a law change enacted by Congress in 2009.

“Airlines are adding new routes, but there aren’t enough pilots to cover them,” Leclair said. “There’s also a shortage of pilots in the Air Force. People aren’t joining the military the way they used to, which means less pilots in the military.”

The new program seeks to boost local students’ interest in careers in aviation.

Rachael Magill, director of Early College Programs at UMA, said the high schools are Edward Little, Lewiston, Oxford Hills Comprehensive in Paris, Buckfield Junior-Senior, Oak Hill in Wales, Poland Regional, Lisbon, Telstar in Bethel and Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn.

The first year will offer a class on unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, while the second year offers a class on private pilot licenses.

Students will receive college credit for completing each class, which can transfer to any University of Maine school, Leclair said.

“If the students participating in the program take some summer school classes before heading into their first year at UMA, they could technically be sophomores in their first year,” Leclair added.

Magill said she wishes the classes could be offered to students as early as eighth grade.

“It’d be nice to get these classes available to students as early as middle school,” she said, “because it’s important for high school students to know what they want to do so they can set up their classes for the next four years.

“If they start their junior year and decide that aviation is the route they want to go, it’s harder to catch up to where they need to be,” she said.

The University of Maine at Augusta’s aviation program has been in place for five years, according to Gregory Jolda, aviation program coordinator for UMA.

He said courses offering certificates in unmanned aircraft systems started two years ago.

Leclair, Jolda and Magill visited Edward Little High School on April 24 to explain the program to sophomores and juniors.

“We decided to include sophomores in the presentation because by the time the program starts, they’ll be juniors and available to participate,” Leclair said.

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