National Transportation Week event highlights careers

By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010

More than 20 elementary school students swarmed around Vernon Allamby as he sat on the wing of his single-engine aircraft, wanting some answers.

"Is that your plane?" a student asked.

"Yes," Allamby said, nodding and smiling.

"Can I get in it?" another requested.

"No," Allamby said. "If you get in it, then everyone else will want to get in."

Everyone else being the more than 450 students who took part in an event May 12 sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation to celebrate National Transportation Week at Potomac Airfield in Fort Washington.

The event highlighted careers in aviation and other transportation-related industries for students from about 25 elementary, middle and high schools throughout the Washington area.

Students met with commercial airline, general aviation and military pilots and explored various types of aircraft and aviation-related exhibits.

Although the U.S. aviation industry has experienced some instability in recent years, the Federal Aviation Administration has forecasted that growth will eventually return. Despite the uncertainty, John Porcari, DOT deputy secretary, said careers in transportation could be essential to the country's economic recovery.

"We get to do these great things that make a difference in people's lives," said Porcari, who learned to fly at the airfield and twice served as secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Two-time attendee Pedro Bonilla, 17, a senior at Cardozo High School in Northwest, said he had been interested in the transportation industry for some time. He attended the event last year and said it helped him focus on choosing a career path.

"I always had a thing for cars and stuff," said Bonilla, who plans to attend Virginia State University in the fall. "But now it's headed toward aviation or mechanical engineering."

Lee Carpenter, a pre-engineering teacher at Cardozo, said the outing gives students in the school's TransTech Academy an opportunity to see up close what they study in class and return with more motivation.

"They get to see the actual instruments, the actual planes," Carpenter said. "The difference between an excellent student and an average student is exposure. I can't teach this in the classroom."

Allamby, 48, a real estate developer, said that, from an early age, he "always had a desire to fly" but that he wasn't exposed to it until several years ago, when he began studying for a pilot's license. He said early exposure "would've had a heck of an impact" on him.

Kariya Jennings, 8, didn't come away with the same impression.

She sat in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with several classmates from Woodridge Elementary School in Hyattsville but wanted a more memorable experience for her first time in an aircraft.

"It was pretty cool," Kariya said. "But it would've been better if I could fly it."

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