Community partners play key role in aviation education at SRQ airport | Indicators


In a past column from the airport, last June, I talked about the education partnerships and efforts the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority is working on to provide aviation education exposure and skills to the youth of our community. The effort envisions aviation exposure from kindergarten through high school and then technical and University education options all on airport property.

This month the airport is adding another component consisting of an educational facility for airline personnel that will include training for commercial and professional inflight service personnel covering cabin safety, emergency medical procedures, culinary, and customer service etiquette.

The capital investments in these efforts are significant. The K-12 program is an A-rated private charter school provider making a $17 million investment in new facilities. The technical training facility is a combined airport, state and Manatee County Schools investment of over $12 million combined, and the flight training facility is a private investment of over $3.5 million.

Another very significant project approved was a land lease on the site of the old Air Traffic Control tower on the north side of the airport for Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 180 to construct the SRQ Community Aviation Center and one I would like to put some focus on in this column as they do not presently have the financial support to realize their dream.

The SRQ Community Aviation Center will provide a permanent home for four nonprofit aviation groups that have a long history at SRQ with a strong emphasis on youth programs. A permanent facility will give them the ability to obtain grants for aviation education programs and equipment that has not been possible before. To realize their goal, however, they need to raise approximately $2.5 million to construct their facility. This combined facility will further enhance the airport’s vision to create the future of aviation in our community for young people.

EAA Chapter 180 is one of the top chapters throughout the world and has called SRQ home since 1963, promoting aircraft building and aviation safety with a strong emphasis on youth programs. Their Young Eagles flights donated by member pilots over the past 30 years have provided, at no cost, an opportunity for over 5,000 young people to discover the experience of flying. EAA 180’s Teen Aircraft Factory of Manasota is in their ninth year and fifth airplane building project mentoring teenagers to build an FAA approved airplane. The talented adult member mentors come from a variety of aviation backgrounds and work each Saturday with teenagers, many who are at-risk.

EAA Chapter 180 and Teen Aircraft Factory will be sharing the SRQ Community Aviation Center with the Civil Air Patrol. Civil Air Patrol is the Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and the SRQ Squadron dates to 1942 at SRQ. Senior volunteers are exceptionally well trained and assist our communities with Air Force-funded missions, including search and rescue and disaster relief efforts with FEMA. The CAP Cadet Program meets weekly and has a heavy emphasis on STEM aerospace education subjects and community service. Many former CAP cadets from the SRQ Squadron have gone on to impressive careers in aviation and has produced many Military Academy graduates, including one of the first women from the Air Force Academy to be in the new U.S. Space Force.

The Ninety-Nines are an organization of women pilots dating back to 1931, when Amelia Earhart was the first president and one of the 99 charter members to start the group. The Sarasota Ladybug Ninety-Nines chapter was founded at SRQ in 2016 and will be sharing the SRQ Community Aviation Center. The local chapter consists of professional, recreational, and student pilots. Their emphasis is on mentoring student pilots, working with school groups on aviation education, providing safety seminars for pilots, and providing flight scholarship assistance.

As you can see there is an amazing pool of talent with diverse and extensive aviation backgrounds in the four volunteer nonprofit organizations that will call the SRQ Community Aviation Center home at the airport. It is the airport’s hope that the philanthropic community, which is so robust in the community, can come to the aid of EAA Chapter 180 and help them raise the capital funds to make this final piece of aviation education a reality.

Working together, bright futures and unlimited opportunities for young people in the community can be created. For more information on the proposed SRQ Community Aviation Center and how your support can make it a reality, visit

Rick Piccolo has been president and chief executive officer of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport since 1995 and serves on various international aviation, business and charitable boards. He can be contacted at

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: RICK PICCOLO: Future SRQ Community Aviation Center a worthy investment