December 3, 1998
KALAMAZOO -- Students in Western Michigan University's School of Aviation Sciences will get some additional wind beneath their wings thanks to new funding approved last week by Battle Creek officials.
The Battle Creek Tax Increment Finance Authority approved a proposal Nov. 24 that will bring the school $1.65 million to complete the funding for a jet simulator that will put WMU among a select few schools in the nation equipped to prepare flight students to fly airliners such as the Boeing 737.
The simulator being purchased, a 737-400 model from FRASCA International Inc. of Illinois, will be used for a jet orientation course that will serve as a capstone course for students in the school's undergraduate flight curriculum. The school also is bidding for contracts to offer the jet orientation course to students in its International Pilot Training Centre, which currently is training pilots for British Airways, Aer Lingus and Emirates Airlines.
Offering the jet orientation course means the school will now have the technology to take students with no flight experience up to the point of requiring only aircraft type conversion to serve as a co-pilot of a large jet airliner -- making them ready for immediate employment by commercial airlines.
According to David H. Thomas, interim director of the School of Aviation Sciences, the simulator should be installed and ready for use at the school's Battle Creek facilities in January 2000. The 400-series simulator is designed to replicate the 737-400 aircraft, which he says, is currently the industry standard. The equipment can be upgraded as that standard changes.
Because the simulator operates with six-axes motion, it can create the illusion of acceleration and deceleration as well as such conditions as wind-shear. In addition to the visual illusion provided by standard flight simulators, the new equipment simulates the full body experience for pilots by providing motion to accompany visual cues.
"We believe that this level of equipment will ultimately persuade U.S. airlines to follow WMU's method of training," Thomas says. "If we have any excess time available on the simulator, it will be very marketable."
The newly approved funding puts total TIFA support for WMU's aviation program at more than $8 million. TIFA uses property taxes captured within a specified district to finance projects that include infrastructure improvements. The TIFA funding will be added to $1 million that was part of a W.K. Kellogg Foundation award last spring to purchase the $2.8 million simulator.
The TIFA grant recognizes the provision for Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Airport to receive 6 percent of new revenues, including those brought into the school as a result of having the simulator. Thomas estimates that the simulator will be used about 3,000 hours annually, bringing in some $750,000 each year in income.
WMU's School of Aviation Sciences offers the only comprehensive bachelor of science degree in aviation at a public university in Michigan and is regarded as one of the top aviation schools in the nation. The school offers four, four-year degree programs, which enroll some 600 students. The school moved in 1997 from Kalamazoo to new, larger facilities in Battle Creek. At the same time, the school launched its International Pilot Training Centre after becoming the only collegiate program in the United States to be approved for pilot training by the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority. The IPTC now enrolls more than 100 international students.
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