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Albuquerque Aviation Academy

Exploring the skies

Article by Richard Lakin

Photography by Dr. Lauren Chavez, Alex Carothers, Carri Carothers

Originally published in Albuquerque City Lifestyle

With the aerospace industry showing a promising future in New Mexico, an education in aviation technology can be a valuable career asset. The Albuquerque Aviation Academy (formerly the SAMS Academy) prepares 6th-12th grade students for college and professional futures in the aviation industry. They currently have 306 students and are a state-chartered school.

The Academy provides a blended learning curriculum combining online instruction and classroom sessions. There is a robust emphasis on flight instruction along with usual school electives. Students are, within reason, able to move at their own pace, so only highly motivated kids would find this appealing. The inspiration comes from the dream to pilot an aircraft, so there is impetus to work hard. The dedication and commitment required to complete their courses helps students to develop an adult character and level of responsibility that is important when you’re flying passengers in a plane.

Dr. Lauren Chavez, Director of Operations and Chief Flight Instructor (also known by her call sign “Doc”) told us “We’re not interested in speed. We’re aiming for good safe pilots.”

Students can test for their pilot’s license on their 17th birthday. Before taking the FAA pilot's test, they must put in 40 hours minimum flying time with a flight instructor. They are evaluated and given a score. Federal regulations require a score of 70%, but Dr. Chavez requires scores consistently in the 90s to pass the Academy’s requirements. She says, “Being a pilot isn’t something that you can just be OK at because you’ll be a danger to everyone.”

The Academy has a great deal of simulated flight technology for instruction. Bridget Barrett, Principal and Head Administrator told us,” We have a commercial grade simulator for the students to learn on and we have a virtual flight SIM, so it's where you put the goggles on and feel like you're in a plane. Students learn realistic simulations of maneuvers before they ever fly in an aircraft.”

The school also has a drone license program where students can take on flying drones for local customers and earn an income. Currently, they are also developing a balloon pilot program…something very useful in New Mexico.

The efficiency of their training becomes apparent when looking at their results. Ten students from the graduating class this year received their pilot license, including twin sisters on their 17th birthday, the youngest African American to get certified as a pilot in New Mexico, and a student who completed the flight instruction in exactly 40 hours because of his flight proficiency.

When we asked the staff at Albuquerque Aviation Academy what their mission statement is, we first got the lengthy one from their website, but then they laughed and said,” We create great pilots and great human beings.”

Albuquerque Aviation Academy is located at 6441 Ventana Rd NW, Albuquerque. Their phone number is 505.608.6441 and their website is

“Being a pilot isn’t something that you can just be OK at because you’ll be a danger to everyone.”

  • Twin sisters who received their pilot licenses on their 17th birthday