WMU News

WMU, Dutch firm enter into pilot training agreement

May 22, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- A Dutch firm that specializes in screening, selecting and arranging funding for prospective pilots headed for careers with European airlines has entered into a partnership with Western Michigan University to bring up to 32 students a year to WMU for training.

The first eight students selected by EPST--European Pilot Selection & Training--will arrive in July at WMU's International Pilot Training Centre in Battle Creek, Mich., to begin training alongside a class of British Airways cadets. A second class will arrive in September.

The partnership with WMU is the first step in an effort that will make the firm's soon-to-be-established American division the first resident partner in Battle Creek's newly designated SmartZone, a Michigan economic development zone that focuses on the aviation arena. Plans call for the firm to be part of a Center for Excellence in the field of pilot candidate selection.

"This agreement will provide a much-needed component to our professional pilot education programs," says Dr. Richard Wright, dean of the WMU College of Aviation. "As with any professional program, training pilots for commercial airlines requires candidates with a unique set of skills and aptitude. EPST will give us access to a screening program that will ensure those selected for our professional programs will enjoy a high probability of success."

According to Dick Verburg, managing director of EPST, the firm has worked successfully since 1997 to select carefully screened pilot candidates and place them with top-notch pilot training academies. Each of the selected candidates receives 100 percent funding to complete basic and advanced training through an agreement with ABN AMRO, a Dutch-based bank group. The funding is a loan that students repay through a carefully tailored contract that begins after they secure a job with an airline. When students' training is completed, EPST also places students as first officers with European airline companies.

Verburg says the critical component of his firm's work is the elaborate screening process used to select students. Students undergo rigorous testing that focuses on personality traits, academic ability and aptitude as well as the capacity to handle job requirements identified as critical to success as a jet airline pilot. Flight simulation, which tests at increasingly difficult levels of intensity, is a critical ingredient to EPST's screening efforts.

"We do an excellent job at analyzing and predicting flying ability through our selection process," he says. "We've had a less than 3 percent failure rate for students in basic flight training, and once they're progressed to advanced training in a jet orientation course, we've had a 100 percent success rate."

That success rate is important to the bank that funds the students because it serves as an assurance of the probable success of the students who will ultimately repay the loans. Verburg says the arrangement is similar to a loan program for those pursuing degrees in law or medicine. Training an airline pilot can be nearly as expensive and the successful candidate's earning potential is just as high.

"The bank we work with has been very receptive to our selection methods," Verburg says. "Once we select a student, those providing the funding know it's not about who that student's family or background is, it's about that student's qualifications. We can show a track record of success."

EPST began working primarily with pilot candidates from the Netherlands and Belgium. It is in the process of establishing a site in Great Britain to screen candidates there. Candidates for pilot training who come through EPST are essentially self-funded students, as opposed to those who come to WMU and the world's other leading training centers through airline contracts.

Plans call for the firm to establish a U.S. office called American Pilot Selection & Training in Battle Creek's SmartZone. EPST will select and train a team that can carry out the firm's pilot screening regimen and expand efforts to serve the U.S. aviation market. Verburg expects to be working with Michigan National, which is part of the ABN AMRO banking group, to explore funding options.

"We're really about maximizing the success of training," Verburg says. "The keys to that success are a rigorous selection process, quality training and a quality jet orientation course. We'll have all three right here."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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