TORRANCE, Calif. (KABC) -- There's a huge demand for airline pilots across the country, especially female pilots, and a South Bay academy is hoping to inspire young students (girls and boys!) to take an interest in the world of aviation.
The Sling Pilot Academy in Torrance recently offered free flight lessons to 200 Southern California high school juniors and seniors and college students.
The weekend event gave the students a free introductory flight and simulator lesson and a tour of Sling's aircraft manufacturing facility.
"We actually taxied around in the airplane and it was super cool, I got to go in the airplane," said 17-year-old Heaven Valenzuela.
As more airlines continue to report staff shortages, there's a big push to get women in the industry.
"Historically, there's been a very low percentage of females in aviation, something like 6% of airline pilots are female," said Sling Pilot Academy co-CEO Matt Liknaitzky. "There's just such a desperate need for pilots right now. Some of the majors have raised their top pay to $590,000 a year."
Liknaitzky said it only takes two years to train and qualify to be hired. Plus, salaries start at about $100,000 a year. Instructor Nina Yang started her aviation career as flight attendant and is now a pilot.
"It's very good that you get to see other younger girls that are interested in the aviation field because when I started, I didn't realize that it was very easy, in a way, to get into aviation," she said.
Yang and Valenzuela spent some time together - and it was worth it.
"You actually don't steer with your hands; you steer with your feet, which I was a little confused about, but I got the hang of it and it was actually really fun," said Valenzuela.
Not only did students get hands-on experience, they also learned more about the industry from groups like Women in Aviation, Latino and Asian pilots' associations, and the Ninety-Nines, an international organization founded by Amelia Earhart in 1929.
"You can be an airline pilot. That's not something that's for other people. It's something that's for you," said Liknaitzky.
For more information, visit Sling Pilot Academy's website.