September 18 – Young Ugandan Sydney Kibuuka saw the nose of a massive plane tilt upward. The whole flight rose steadily and flew into the firmament.
“I would like to run something as big as this – something as beautiful as this,” Kibuuka recalls.
He began to dream. On Saturday, 17 years later, Kibuuka graduated from California Aeronautical University in Bakersfield with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics after arriving from Uganda three years ago.
“I’m always here to fight … to get to this accomplishment,” Kibuuka said. “(It took) hard work, a lot of sacrifice.”
He was one of around 50 students who graduated during the third annual start of the school year on Saturday held in a hangar in Bakersfield. Michael Berry, the rector of the school, said the school has grown over the years, from five students enrolled in 2016 to 300 students now.
This graduation ceremony comes at a crucial time for the aviation industry. CAU President Matthew Johnston said pilots are in high demand. Boeing’s 2021 Pilot and Technician Outlook projects that 612,000 new pilots, 626,000 maintenance technicians and 886,000 cabin members are needed over the next 20 years.
Johnston said two factors explain the shortage of pilots: The world has become a world heavily dependent on aviation for business, which has meant more travel around the world. And many older pilots have retired, he added.
Swayne Martin, Envoy Air’s first officer and keynote speaker at the launch ceremony, said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated this pilot shortage. Many airlines have offered retirement packages to older and more experienced pilots. However, travel rebounded faster than airlines assumed, and more staff left the industry than expected, creating a gap, Martin added.
Johnston only thinks the pandemic has interrupted the shortage; the need for pilots resurfaced.
Martin added that increased visibility and cheaper schools like CAU are helping to meet demand. He runs a YouTube channel with over 27 million views and creates content to explain the unknowns of the aviation industry to newcomers. In addition, flight training often costs over $ 100,000. The relatively low prices of the CAU can increase affordability for many, introduce them to a new industry and thereby remedy the insufficient number of pilots, he said.
Martin provided wise advice to all graduates during Saturday’s ceremony. He stressed the importance of learning from small failures, rejecting comparisons with peers and embodying adaptability, a key element for the industry.
Kibukka’s mother and father were unable to join him from Uganda. However, his close family and friends arrived on Saturday to celebrate. He lived with Maclyn Itazya as he acclimated in the United States. She thanked God for helping the graduate face the trials and tribulations of a newly arrived immigrant.
“Sydney is one of those very special kids,” Itazya said. “And when he knows what he wants, he will get it.”
The new graduate loves everything about the aviation industry and chose CAU because of their personalized approach to teaching. In addition, the school offered on-site accommodation and planes, all in a central location. He said he intended to fly for a large company and one day dreamed of starting his own trans-African airline, an underserved market.
“The cost is quite high to send a student to the United States,” Kibuuka said. “The whole family is really excited by this achievement. I’m just really grateful for the situation I find myself in.”
You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. Follow her on Twitter: @ idesai98.