ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A local aviation academy is adding a New Mexico favorite to their curriculum for high schoolers: hot air ballooning.

Big changes are coming to Southwest Aeronautics, Mathematics, and Science Academy.

“We’re changing our name, so officially this semester, we’re Albuquerque Aviation Academy,” said Aviation Director Lauren Chavez.

The Albuquerque Aviation Academy is now spreading its wings by turning its attention away from just future airplane pilots.

“As you know, not one size fits all, and students who go to this, there are students who go to this Aviation Academy who love aviation, but they don’t necessarily want to be airplane pilots. They want to be drone pilots or balloon pilots or we’re adding a glider program soon,” said Chavez.

Officially starting this semester, the Aviation Academy is launching a hot air balloon pilot program.

“We’re able to expand not just to have a class in ballooning but they’re able to finish their ground in ballooning and pass their FAA knowledge exam and also go all the way up to getting their balloon pilot certification,” said Chavez.

Everyone, from school board members to students and parents, is in full support.

“We’re in Albuquerque. We have an amazing balloon pilot community, and they want to come on board,” said Chavez.

With partnerships from past and current International Balloon Fiesta leaders as well as Quad-A, the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association, the academy is ready for the new programs.

“We have three different balloon pilots who are volunteering to even teach the class so they’re going to come in every single week to teach this class and Quad-A has a balloon that’s specifically set up for education,” said Chavez.

Chavez said all of the support is helping keep costs down.

“With ballooning, we’re going to try to get scholarships, but we’re looking at hundreds of dollars, not thousands of dollars, for students to be able to get their pilots certification,” said Chavez.

Right now, they have seven students already signed up for this semester.