Airolina: “Passing it On”

The Program

The Airolina Young Aviators Program (AYA) is an aviation STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program for students ages 14-17 often from low-income families. The program provides professional introductory flight training, mentorship and a Basic (Private) Pilot Certificate through a comprehensive four-year flight training program.

AYA encourages student involvement in aviation and seeks to increase the numbers of high school graduates, minorities, and women FAA certified pilots prepared to pursue the next steps to enter the workforce of the future in commercial aviation.

AYA is currently in its second year, with 22 students attending flight simulation training, 5 students presently flying, and 2 students who may be ready for their pilot’s license in a few months.

Our Mission

The Mission of  the Airolina Young Aviator program, (AYA), is to introduce high school students to the career opportunities offered in today’s commercial aviation industry with an emphasis on commercial pilot opportunities. Students who are academically motivated but often economically challenged and who demonstrate a real interest in pursuing a flight crew career are given flight lessons and will be able to receive an FAA Private Pilot license at age 17. They are encouraged and inspired to enter collegiate level aviation programs like the one offered by Elizabeth City State University or an equivalent University Aviation Program to pursue career opportunities in aviation. Persons who are currently employed or retired from commercial will be providing training and mentoring to youth to help “pass it on” to a new generation.

The additional goal of this project is to increase the number of high school graduations among youth from low-income families. Enrollment in this aviation STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program is expected to reduce the high school dropout rate and improve overall performance.


We have selected “pass it on” as the theme for this youth program. For our program it simply means current and retired commercial pilots passing on the opportunities and training that they had to a new generation of youth. Our instructors are:

Warren Wheeler, Founder

In 1969 black aviator Warren H. Wheeler, a native of Durham, North Carolina, established Wheeler Flying Service (Wheeler Airlines), the first African American owned and operated air service in the United States. He successfully headed Wheeler Airlines for over two decades until its closure in 1991. In 1966 following a personal recommendation from former North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford, Wheeler also began his lengthy tenure with Piedmont Airlines as the company’s initial African American aviator.

Warren H. Wheeler headed Wheeler Airlines over its entire existence (1969–1991). The greatest entrepreneurial venture of his life, the company progressed steadily under his leadership. Around 1976, because of an increase in business, Wheeler Flying Service was renamed Wheeler Airlines. At its zenith, Wheeler Airlines chartering flights for over forty thousand customers annually. This success allowed the airline to add several planes to its fleet. Wheeler also established Wheeler Regional Airlines, which provided nationwide air service to its clientele. In 1983 Wheeler created Caribbean Wings as a subsidiary of Wheeler Airlines.

As an entrepreneur, aviator, and businessman, Wheeler also paved the way for African Americans and other people of color who sought aviation careers. Beginning in 1979, Wheeler became the first airline owner to use various government employment training programs such as the federal Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) to train unemployed and impoverished people of color who wanted careers in the airline industry. In addition to giving these pupils practical instruction, Wheeler served as their employment negotiator with regional and national carriers.  For this and other work, the Organization of Black Airline Pilots gave Wheeler its highest award because of his contribution to the airline industry.

Learn more about Warren Wheeler and Wheeler Airlines by browsing through the articles written about him, reposted here on our blog.

Wheeler Airlines Gallery