The University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) is proud to announce that its Center for Excellence in Leadership and Learning (CELL) has been awarded a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to offer drone and flight training. The award is part of the FY 2023 Aviation Workforce Development Grants, which aims to educate the next generation of aviation professionals across the United States. 

The new training initiative, known as Coral Wings, is led by Dr. Suzanne Darrow-Magras and founder, Dr. Joanne Sylvia Luciano, who seek to inspire and enable the next generation of flight professionals in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This goal requires a multifaceted approach that enhances knowledge, accessibility, support, long-term infrastructure, and community development to provide opportunities for aspiring young aviators.  

"UVI CELL is honored to receive this FAA grant, which will greatly enhance our capabilities to provide flight simulation training and testing, open up new opportunities for our students and address critical aviation workforce shortages," said Darrow-Magras, director of UVI CELL. "This grant will not only improve accessibility to high-quality aviation education in the region but also foster interest and create pathways for students to pursue rewarding careers in the aviation industry." 

Coral Wings will provide opportunities for high school students at both UVI campuses leading to certified FAA drone and pilot training through partnerships with VI Aerial Solutions and UFLY VI. Through the grant's one-year duration, Coral Wings will ensure the project objectives to establish the Coral Wings Outreach Program, the Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV/Drone) Program, Private Pilot Certificate (PPC) Program, and Next-generation Caribbean Aeronautical Advisory (NCAA). A phase two rollout is envisioned to expand the initiative to include all Virgin Islands students. The grant will enable UVI to offer FAA approved flight simulators and an FAA Testing Center in the Virgin Islands, eliminating the need to travel outside the territory for testing. The simulators will be housed within the Innovation Centers on each campus. 

FAA, the largest transportation agency of the U.S. government, regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the country and surrounding international waters. In the FY 2023 grant cycle, a total of $10 million was awarded to support new enrollment opportunities and program establishment, including UVI's project. The grant awarded to UVI is $499,301. 

UVI's project aims to assist the underserved population of the U.S. Virgin Islands, exposing more than 10,000 students to aviation pursuits. The initiative will provide students with aviation career paths, career days, social and aeronautical events, drone and flight demonstrations, presentations, guest lectures, simulation days, aviation days, airport field trips, and preliminary flight experience days at U.S. Virgin Islands airports. 

“We have a passionate and enthusiastic aviation community here that we have only started to bring together,” said Luciano. “The Coral Wings initiative will have a lasting impact on the territory in aviation and disaster resilience.”  

UVI CELL is dedicated to providing innovative educational solutions and professional development programs to empower individuals, businesses, and communities in the U.S. Virgin Islands and beyond. 

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