FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Dave & Buster's in Ward Village, the last class of the Aloha Airlines Explorers Club graduated last night. The program educated high school and college kids about careers in aviation. Kale Chang Yuen and Mitchell Lum chatted prior to the start of the ceremony.
Aloha Explorers bid fond, final farewell
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Hugs and smiles were shared last night as the last 23 graduates of Aloha Airlines Explorers Program received their certificates in a ceremony held at Dave & Buster's.
The program has lured and educated more than 550 high school and college students interested in aviation during the past 19 years.
It has also lured back some of its own who had moved on to flying careers, such as Aloha Airlines pilot and former head adviser Jaime Wagatsuma, who was diagnosed with cancer last year.
She died in November.
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The shutdown of Aloha Airlines doomed a community service program for young people interested in a career in flying.
That meant Chandler Mato wound up graduating in the last class of the Aloha Airlines Explorers Program last night.
The Mid-Pacific Institute junior has wanted to be a pilot since he was 2, and joined the Explorers Program to learn more about the airline industry.
"It's possibly one of the best experiences that a person who wants to go into the aviation business can get," Mato said at the graduation ceremony at Dave & Buster's.
Mato was one of 23 students who graduated from the program designed to teach students between 16 and 20 about working in the airline industry.
The graduation was also a farewell for the 16 former Aloha Airlines employees and volunteer advisers in the program, who were pilots, flight attendants, customer service employees and managers of Aloha Airlines.
When the airline shut down on March 31, the former employees decided to continue the program so the current students could graduate.
"We wanted to bring closure to something that's been a good chunk of our history," said Greg Chilson, head adviser of the program. "It's been so humbling and special to be a part of it."
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Aloha Explorers club, an Aloha Airlines program to teach young people about careers in aviation, held its last graduation ceremony yesterday at Dave & Buster's in Ward Village. Aloha employees continued the program despite the shutdown of airline operations.
In 1989 an Aloha employee started the program, which is part of the Boy Scouts of America. Since then the 10-week program has graduated more than 550 students.
Several Aloha employees had graduated from the program and returned as advisers.
"It's like going through it again as an Explorer," said Chasity Ah You, 23, a former Explorer and program adviser. "This is going to be the hardest part, to say goodbye to everybody."
Former Aloha pilot Monica Sjursen, who is 7 1/2 months pregnant, said the company's closure showed the students that they should have a backup plan in the industry. However, she encouraged the youths to pursue a career in aviation if that is their dream.
"It's still a wonderful industry, even though now it's not that great," she said. "At some point it'll have to recover."
Organizers finished the program about a week early, cutting a flight to Maui because there were no planes.
Aloha's fate, however, did not discourage the teens from pursuing dream jobs in aviation. Some said they learned about other jobs they might be interested in.
Brysen Kotaka, 16, a Kaimuki High School junior, said he realized how much customer service was important to running an airline. He wants to be an air traffic controller.
"Even without the job security, I still think it's a really cool job," he said.
Travis Somomura, 17, said he learned how much work was involved in running the business.
"It was pretty interesting," he said.
For the first time, the Explorers program named an award after Jamie Wagatsuma, an Aloha Airlines pilot who had been an Explorer. She later became the program's head adviser, and died of cancer last year.
The Wagatsuma award was given for the outstanding Explorer of the Year: Jerris Tagavilla.
Tagavilla said the program was good "for a lot of kids into aeronautics who are not really sure what they want to do," she said. "This is a really good thing for them to get into."