Polk Schools to offer unique air traffic control academy at Bartow Airport 
October 17, 2022
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  • The Polk County Public School District will soon offer a one-of-a-kind air traffic control academy. 

    Adrian Gardeazabal, 18, just received his private pilot license. He is a graduate of Polk County Public School District’s Central Florida Aerospace Academy. 

    “I went to the SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo. I would always go there and see all the planes. I would say since I was a really young age. I’ve always been interested in aviation,” said Gardeazabal. 

    Young aviation enthusiasts like Gardeazabal will soon be able to train to become air traffic controllers. The school district is teaming up with Bartow Executive Airport and Washington Consulting Group to develop the 10-month technical training program. 

    “We were having difficulty finding controllers when we do recruit for them. Through that we started doing a little research, and it came to our attention that nationally it seemed to be that there were fewer and fewer controllers and a high retirement rate,” said John Helms, executive director of Bartow Executive Airport. 

    “We saw it as an opportunity to look into potentially training controllers here,” he said. 

    Currently, to train to become an air traffic controller, you must go through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Academy or receive training through military service. WCG will provide the technical training for the new course. 

    “Our school is going to be the first of its kind, maybe even in the world, because what we’re doing is we’re going to be training traditional air traffic control as we know it. We’re also going to be training students to control from digital remote towers,” said Nicole Valentine, President of Washington Consulting Group. 

    Valentine said this involves opening the very first international remote tower center in the western hemisphere here in Polk County. 

    “Rather than import people to the area we wanted to be able to grow a labor force that wants to stay in the area because long term we plan to be controlling airplanes that are in other countries,” she said. 

    The air traffic control academy will train 64 students each year. Registration will open next month with classes set to begin early 2023.