One hundred lucky teenagers will reach for the sky this year thanks to Cathay Pacific's "I Can Fly" programme, which gives local students a close-up of the aviation industry.
Between February and August, a series of activities, that include a weekend training camp, on-site visits, social service initiatives, and possible overseas trips, will give participants the chance to learn about the industry and give something back to the community.
"This is the fourth time we have organised the programme and we try to make it a little bit different each time," says Jennifer Wong, the airline's assistant corporate communications manager - public relations.
"We have seen a lack of awareness among kids about the need for a healthy lifestyle, so we will introduce more information about that, but in a fun way." Wong says the first major activity, a three-day, two-night training camp early next month, is a new event. Beforehand, the students, who are aged between 15 and 18 and all come from local secondary schools, are divided into five groups of 20 to ensure everyone gets involved. They also meet Cathay pilots, staff leaders and alumni co-ordinators who help out with advice and instruction during the programme.
The camp itself kicks off with various team-building exercises to break the ice. It then moves on to a competition to make and fly a paper plane - to learn the principles of aerodynamics - and ground-school training. During this, pilots explain the basics of flight operations, the weather, and preparing a flight plan. There is also a photography workshop on leading a healthy life. Over subsequent weekends, participants have a series of visits to get an understanding of the aviation sector and related services. These take them to Hong Kong International Airport, the air-traffic control tower, engineering and maintenance facilities, and the Government Flying Service.
"The programme requires each team to do a self-designed social service project," Wong says. "We want them to help others, so they might visit homes for the elderly or arrange classes for other kids to pass on what they learned."
Everyone taking part also has the chance for an overseas trip. This is funded by Cathay and can take place at the Adelaide Flying School to "co-pilot" a jet in Australia, the Airbus factory in France, the Boeing assembly line in Seattle, United States, or to the Civil Aviation University of China in Tianjin. The programme runs every two years. To be accepted, students have to write an essay in English or Chinese on a topic such as, "What is your view on the future of aviation in Hong Kong?" and anyone eligible is welcome to apply.
"We are interested in their hobbies, especially if they have done aviation-related courses, and any community service," Wong says. "Cathay's reason for running the programme is to help the kids and spread the message about the aviation industry. Some students have later come back as pilots, attendants and office staff."
The programme is intended for not just "elite" students but for those from all sectors of the community
In explaining the importance of a healthy lifestyle, course leaders will also deliver a "no drugs, no smoking" message
Students are able to join either English or Cantonese speaking groups