Retired pilot becomes school bus driver amid national shortage

Posted at 3:15 PM, Nov 16, 2021

POWAY, Calif. — A grandfather in Southern California is switching careers after hearing about the national school bus driver shortage.

At 67 years old, William Neail Jr. is back in the classroom. He is learning first aid and child safety in preparation for his new job.

"I was flying as a pilot," Neail said.

For years, he flew tourists from San Diego to Baja California.

"We'd go out into the lagoons and actually go whale watching," Neail said.

But when the pandemic hit, tourism died off, which meant Neail was forced into retirement. That's when he found out about Poway Unified School District's desperate call for bus drivers.

"I thought, 'Well hey, I can help out,' because I've got the time," Neail said.

Neail lives right in the community, and his grandchildren attend Poway Unified Schools. So, two months ago, he made the commitment to go from the cockpit to the driver's seat.

"We were flying a six-passenger aircraft onto dirt strips in Baja, and moving into a bus that takes 84 kids, it's a lot more people you are responsible for," Neail said.

But being a bus driver is not just about driving. They must inspect every piece of equipment and protect kids even outside the bus. That is why they go through several dozen hours of classroom, behind-the-wheel, and crosswalk training.

So far, there have been about a dozen new applicants. But veteran driver and instructor Cathy Zaldivar said they are still short-staffed.

"Bill [Neail] has been a great student. He learns really quickly, and we can use 30 more just like him," Zaldivar laughed.

Neail said driving the school bus helps him keep his mind and body feel sharp.

"Rather than just sitting around and being retired and playing golf, I think that that helps me stay young and have a purpose."

The purpose of serving the community and being the light at the start of a child's day.

Neail said he hopes to pass his written and CHP driving tests next week and start driving kids by the end of the month.

This story was originally published by Rina Nakano at KGTV.