WMUs Friendly Skies

February 2, 2007
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WesternMichiganUniversity's College of Aviation recently entered into an agreement with ExpressJet Airlines that will give WMU aviation graduates the upper hand in getting a job with the airline.

According to the agreement, ExpressJet will guarantee WMU aviation students in the Jet Equivalency Training program an interview for a pilot's position after they accrue 450 total hours, 50 of which have to be multi-engine flight time. In order to secure a job with ExpressJet after the interview, students have to accrue another 50 hours of multi-engine flight time, said Rick Maloney, dean of WMU's College of Aviation.

Though an interview is guaranteed, a position with the carrier is not necessarily guaranteed. Candidates who are successful in the interview will be offered a job at ExpressJet that hinges on their completion of the full 500 hours. Once the specified hours are completed, the airline will bring them on board, Maloney explained.

ExpressJet, which operates as Continental Express, the regional provider for Continental Airlines, has similar bridging agreements with between five and 10 colleges of aviation, said airline spokeswoman Kristy Nicholas. She said the company interviews for pilots on a continuous basis rather than at certain times of the year and that the airline will have about 250 to 300 flight crew position openings in the first half of this year.

"ExpressJet hasn't made a commitment to what their needs are going to be beyond that, but that's more job openings than we produce in terms of students," Maloney remarked. "So far, we've had a very good response from our students and our graduates. This is a really significant opportunity for our students to get jobs."

Nicholas said ExpressJet will also offer a handful of three-month internship positions in the company's records department and its statistical operations department. Maloney said the college sent a group of five interns to interview for internships in December.

"We want to be very careful and thoughtful about the quality and the qualifications of the interns we send. We really want to make sure of the quality of interns and that they will behave like employees."

The WMU College of Aviation, which anchors the Battle Creek Aviation and e-Learning Smart Zone, is housed in a 92,000-square-foot building on 20 acres at the W.K.KelloggRegionalAirport. The airport is also home to an Air National Guard base. The WMU program is the only comprehensive aviation program at a public university in Michigan. With some 700 undergraduate students, it's considered one of the top three aviation programs in the nation in terms of size. Maloney said about 500 students are training to be pilots, about 140 are training for aviation administration positions, and the remaining 60 or so are training as aviation maintenance technicians.

The aviation school focuses on pilot training, research, development, commercialization and venture formation in aviation and aeronautics. Students in the program study the basic sciences, aircraft systems, crew concepts, crew resource management, advanced aerodynamics, professional flight, airline operations, management and global navigation. Pilots in training use state-of-the-art simulators, computer-based training, and highly advanced flight training equipment with glass cockpit technology.

According to WMU, its College of Aviation is the only four-year institution of higher learning in North America jointly certified by the European Union Joint Aviation Administration and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

The college uses the former airport terminal and tower as its flight operations building. Its classrooms, computer lab, library, lounge and faculty offices are housed in the AviationEducationCenter next door. The college also uses three storage hangars at the airport, as well as the AviationMaintenanceBuilding, which includes engine test cells and labs for instruction and research. Maloney said the ExpressJet agreement is the first of several the College of Aviation hopes to strike with regional airlines. Four to six such relationships would be ideal, he said, noting that the college couldn't adequately supply enough aviation candidates for more than four to six airlines. 

"The major airlines are beginning now to recover and call back from furlough and start on kind of a growth hiring process," Maloney said. "Most of the candidates for what we call the legacy carriers — United, American, Northwest, Delta and U.S. Air — typically pull new candidates from the regional airlines."

That means the regionals have to find enough pilots to fill their cockpits. They're not going to be able to recruit them from the military, Maloney said, because the military doesn't produce a great number of pilots and it fiercely wants to hold on to the aviators it has.

"That creates quite a vacuum, and that's where collegiate programs can step up and truly add value to their graduates by putting them into those roles," he remarked. "I think we've found our niche, and I think we can perform really well."

The college recently upgraded its entire fleet of 46 single-engine airplanes to the latest technology available. Although enrollment declined somewhat after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Maloney believes the College of Aviation's bridge agreement with ExpressJet and its new technology-enhanced aircraft will help boost enrollment over time.    

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