About a decade ago, SAFE (Student Aviator Flight Experience) was a small program in New Jersey that started out as a group of pilots who came together to own an aircraft, build flight time to make it to the airlines, and expose others to aviation who may have not considered it as a career option before.
One of the pilots in the group was Khaled (Kal) Chebli, an EWR-based captain at Republic Airways and Chairman of SAFE. Kal joined Republic in January 2016, but even as he spent more time flying an Embraer jet, he and the group of pilots who began SAFE (who are now spread throughout the country in various bases at various airlines) kept the Cessna, maintained it with the latest avionics and maintenance servicing in order to build SAFE’s mission to train underrepresented students to fly.
Three years ago, SAFE, which operates through TriState Aviation at the Central Jersey Regional airport, formalized its training program and established a 501c3 to become a nonprofit organization to offer local students full scholarships to earn their private pilot license (PPL). Not only does the scholarship include the cost of the fuel and instruction, the scholarship also covers transportation for the students to and from the airport; the group knew it needed to eliminate any and all barriers for the students to be able to pursue their flight lessons.
Once the nonprofit was formed, SAFE became an outlet for many EWR crew members to spend their time, giving back to students who are passionate about flying, even though they never dreamed it to be possible.
Jonathon Trainor, EWR-based Captain, who is also President of SAFE, shared, “In partnership with Franklin Township High School, that now has an aviation club after its students were exposed to SAFE and our goal of teaching people to fly, we have 15 students annually who learn how to fly and earn their PPL at no expense to them.”
“These students are motivated, they’re proud of what they’re achieving, and they set higher goals because of the obstacles they’ve overcome,” Jonathan continued. “Two female students who trained with us this past year initially didn’t plan on attending a four-year university; by the time they completed training, one was enrolled in Arizona State University and the other had just been accepted into the U.S. Airforce Academy.”
Kal added, “The success of SAFE is measured by our ability to change the trajectory of these students’ lives, taking them from their underprivileged background and put them in an advantageous position no matter where they go. Based on what we’ve seen so far from our students, it’s working.”
Kal and Jonathan have worked with Franklin Township High School to begin the aviation club, partnering with the club’s advisor to get more students involved and to select those who earn the scholarships. The scholarship money goes directly to the fuel for the aircraft, and all other costs related to the flight are donated, including the instructors’ time. Kal, Jonathan and the rest of SAFE have been strategic about their donations, seeking partnerships with schools, organizations and individuals that provide equipment and resources needed for the students.
Republic Airways is one of those partners. Beyond several of our EWR-based Associates who donate their time and skill to the students, our airline has donated lightly used iPads to SAFE for their students to use throughout their flight lessons.
“Republic’s iPad donation was significant for our program. We use them in critical ways, completing ground school on them with Wi-Fi connection, tracking their progress through our digital syllabus and navigating and seeing weather in the cockpit,” Kal said. “We are a part 61 program, operating like a 141 and have a tremendous focus on safety, hence our name.”
Jonathan added, “Knowing the technology we have in our Embraer 170/175s, we stress that students get familiar with similar technology well before they get to the airlines. The iPads help them do that.”
While Kal and Jonathan are heavily involved with SAFE, they were sure to share the credit with all the others, especially our Republic crew, who donate their time to the nonprofit.
“Our Republic EWR Associates have the biggest hearts and generously give their time to help these students, and because of that, the students in the program aren’t looking to fly commercially anywhere but Republic. They’re going to be great leaders in our airline someday,” Kal said.
So, what’s next? How big will SAFE get?
“We’d love to see SAFE in every city across the U.S., and hopefully, someday it will be,” Jonathan said. “That’s why it’s been so critical for us to make it scalable. We don’t want to depend on resources that other cities may not have. So we partner with organizations that would make sense no matter what city or state you are in. Then all they need are a few people who really want to help out and provide these kids an opportunity.”
Interested in learning more about SAFE or helping out? Check out their website here.