New partnership paves way for ‘flying cars’ in Piedmont-Triad

WINSTON-SALEM, NC (WGHP) – Flying cars.

Decades ago, they seemed too futuristic to be true. Today, they are hovering just over the horizon, and when they become a reality, Piedmont-Triad will be at the forefront.

“A fun fact is that George Jensen’s birthday is actually August 2022,” said Basil Yap, president of the nonprofit AeroX, in a nod to the 1960s sitcom The Jetsons. “So he was born in the future.”

While the flying machines we eventually experience will look quite different from those depicted in the animated series, they do bear a strong resemblance to the two rotor-based craft the world has long and briefly been accustomed to. Think of it as a mix between helicopters and drones.

“We’re really closer to flying cars than we think,” added Yap.

Where North Carolina – and Piedmont-Triad in particular – comes into play starts with a recently announced partnership between AeroX, the renowned aviation and unmanned aircraft science institution, Elizabeth City State University, and Piedmont Flight Training, which is based at Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem.

“It’s huge for Piedmont-Triad,” said Ignosis Management President Parrish Pedderick, who oversees Piedmont Flight Training.

As Pedderick explains, Smith Reynolds Airport offers features that many flight schools are unable to offer, such as a mix of tower and ground control, in addition to corporate flight traffic. With the agreement between AeroX, ECSU and PFT, students from ten surrounding counties will be able to take online courses with training at the airport.

The real highlight, however, is the cost.

“This is really exciting because the cost is so low, I think we will have a lot of interest,” Yap said.

Through the North Carolina Promise tuition plan, in-state students will be able to train to enter the air mobility workforce for just $500 per semester.

“The aviation sector, advanced air mobility alone – not even existing aviation – is projected to be $1.5 trillion by 2040,” said David Mounts, managing partner of AeroX Ventures. “It’s going to be a massive industry.”

The degree offered by the program is the same four-year aviation degree offered in person at ECSU. With a goal to expand aviation education, strengthen and diversify the aviation workforce, and build autonomous urban aircraft infrastructure in North Carolina.

“When the first news release came out…I think we got more than ten calls in just one day,” said Dr. Kuldeep Rawat, dean of ECSU’s School of Aviation Health Sciences and Technology, referring to the program’s initial announcement.

As Mounts explained, the aviation sector has an average salary close to $100,000 a year with careers that tend to be stable while remaining local.

“It doesn’t just mean captains and commercial airlines,” he said. “It’s across the industry.”

The key here, as the industry expands, is to ensure that the next generation of workers is trained now to keep up with future demands.

“It’s going to affect every single industry,” Mounts said of advanced air mobility.

In a state known as “first in flight,” Mounts believes it’s even more important to be “next in flight.”

“The goal is really to make sure that the US is a leader in this industry, and really in particular that that leadership starts right here in North Carolina,” he added.

For more information on the program and subjects involved, click here.

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