JFK Annex Is Dream-Come-True For L.I.C.’s Aviation High School

To Paul Casella, a teacher at Aviation High School, the school’s new annex that will open this fall at John F. Kennedy Airport, is no less than a decades-old dream come true.

“Everyone worked to make this happen and now it’s happening,” Casella said.

Aviation High School was established in 1936. Until 1957 it was based in Manhattan. Then it became affiliated with the Federal Aviation Administration and since then it has been located at its present location at 45-30 36th Street off Queens Boulevard in Long Island City.

The largest school of its kind in the United States, Aviation High School is a public school. It’s under the administration of the Board of Education and adheres to the regulated state and federal curriculums.

But in addition to these classes, students are able to focus on and learn aviation maintenance skills.

The students, who opt to attend the high school and come from all over the city, have what Principal Eileen Taylor calls “a long day,” studying aviation history and working on the various airplanes that are stored in the school’s hangar.

The school has had a long-time relationship with the various local commercial airlines, which have had aviation high students as interns on a regular basis for many years.

It’s a great way to learn, say teachers, but something has always been missing.

“The most enhanced way to deliver this education to the kids is to be at an airport,” Casella said. “We’re using this new program as a sort of model for how to get involved with partners.”

The new annex will open in September in the JFK Airport’s Building 141 and will be ready for an honors selection of 25 students who have proven themselves academically. The building was previously offices for airport administration staff.

The renovation costs of the 5,000-square-foot area have been paid almost entirely by the Port Authority. Estimates put the costs at around $2.3 million.

According to Casella, everyone related to the school or its programs has been pushing for an annex in an airport, where kids could see their skills performed up close in the industrial world and be within walking distance of internships.

Years ago school officials attempted to build an annex at the no-longer public airport, Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn.

But it appears that the timing wasn’t right for that annex. Then three years ago, according to Casella, the timing was perfect.

Major renovation plans were just getting underway at JFK, including the plans for the AirTrain light rail construction that is being worked on presently. Because airport officials were already considering all sorts of major changes at the location, the possibility of an annex for Aviation High School didn’t pose the spacial and disruption problems it would have at other times in the airport’s history.

Casella said three years ago he approached Bill Puckhaber, owner and editor of the Airport Press publication and former JFK Airport Chamber of Commerce President.

Puckhaber then approached the various officials he knew, including Chuck Selega, general manager at JFK.

“He said ëit’s not such a crazy idea,’” Casella said, remembering Puckhaber’s reaction. “Then when the Chamber of Commerce bought into it, the Port Authority bought into it. They’ve been supporting us ever since. The Port Authority is basically footing the bill for everything.”

The annex also received the full support of the Board of Education, Borough President Claire Shulman and several commercial airlines.

Casella said Aviation High School is creating a flow of qualified aviation maintenance technicians that will fill the industrial void. Because of the highly valuable skills Aviation High School is teaching, airlines have always been helpful and supportive of the school’s programs.

Casella is himself a graduate of the high school, as are his two sons.

Representatives from most of the major carriers in the New York region visit the school at the end of each school year, in hopes of recruiting some newly qualified technicians.

It’s estimated that around 40 percent of the aviation maintenance technicians working at Newark, JFK and LaGuardia Airports are graduates of Aviation High School.

The students who will attend the annex next fall have already been chosen, with a back list of additional students waiting in the wings and ready to step in should the grades of anyone in the honors program fall below what is required.