ExpressJet, Delta put aviation students on career pathway

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Photo of WMU College of Aviation aircraft.

Program allows students to begin pilot screening process early.

KALAMAZOO--A new agreement between Western Michigan University's College of Aviation and two closely allied commercial air carriers will put WMU students on a clear pathway to careers as commercial airline pilots.

The WMU/ExpressJet Airline Pilot Pathway Program—AP3—will allow WMU aviation students to begin a pilot screening process early in their WMU careers that will prepare them for and guarantee jobs as first officers with ExpressJet. Successfully meeting all the screening requirements will also guarantee participating students an interview for a position as a pilot with Delta Air Lines. Atlanta-based Atlantic Southeast Airlines merged with ExpressJet Airlines in 2011. The new ExpressJet is the world's largest regional airline, operating an average of 2,200 daily flights as Delta Connection, Continental Express and United Express.

The agreement makes WMU just the fourth collegiate aviation program in the nation selected to participate in the AP3 program that is designed to provide the airline with a reliable source of top-quality pilots in the years to come. Airline officials have indicated they are reaching out to college programs that already have an established track record for producing top-quality pilots.

"We've had a wonderful relationship with ExpressJet over the years, but this new agreement is unique," says Dave Powell, dean of the aviation college. "We're going to help our airline partners identify students in their freshman and sophomore years who will agree to meet a highly structured screening process used by other major airlines to select its pilots. For those who are able to meet the requirements, the likelihood of securing a job as a first officer is high. It will be a challenging proposition, but the program offers our students a clear pathway to a career as an airline pilot."

The agreement, Powell notes, will benefit both students and the airline sponsors of the effort who are looking at a skyrocketing demand for new pilots in the next decade. Nationally and internationally, all signs point to what one aviation association executive calls "the longest and largest pilot-hiring boom in the history of the industry." After a period of slow industry personnel growth, it is now faced with such factors as a wave of pilot retirements, growing international travel routes, proposed changes to FAA rules about the time pilots must rest between flights, and an improving U.S. economy.

The first WMU students have already begun the process. Students involved will be monitored throughout their academic careers, and they must pass six screening measures and complete WMU's Advanced Jet Training course. They also must earn the appropriate flight certifications, including that of becoming a certified flight instructor.

Powell says Delta and ExpressJet sent their pilot hiring managers and recruiters to campus late last month to describe the program to aviation students, the turnout for an evening information session was phenomenal.

"We expected a couple of dozen students and ended up with more than 90," Powell says. "Delta and ExpressJet officials have always told us they're impressed with our level of training and the quality of young pilots we produce, but they were blown away by the enthusiastic response they got on our campus."

About the WMU College of Aviation

The College of Aviation boasts enrollment of nearly 700 students in three programs—aviation maintenance technology, aviation science and administration, and aviation flight science. The college's mission is to prepare leaders who are sought after by the aerospace industry and to engage in meaningful research that advances the knowledge base. The college's vision is to serve as the premier aerospace education and research institution in a diverse global society. Founded in 1939, WMU's aviation program has operated since 1997 from the W.K. Kellogg Airfield in Battle Creek.