Aviation college prepares for expansion
Dec. 1, 2003
BATTLE CREEK, Mich.--Western Michigan University's College of Aviation will launch a physical and academic expansion by moving a small part of its training fleet from Battle Creek to WMU facilities at the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport.
The first week of January will see eight of the college's Cessna 172s moved to Kalamazoo to lay the groundwork for a freshman flying program designed to put aviation students in the air earlier in their college careers. Aviation students spend their first two years at the University on WMU's main campus in Kalamazoo before shifting to the Battle Creek campus for the majority of their aviation course work, which is taken during the last two years. The new move also will open up hangar space in Battle Creek, allowing the college to more securely store the majority of its fleet as well as pursue the acquisition of new types of aircraft.
"One of the first things I realized after becoming dean of the college last summer was that we really need to get our students flying earlier," says Capt. Rick Maloney, dean of the college. "Right now, most of our students are juniors and well along in their studies before they even get a chance to find out if they really like to fly and if they have the talent and skills needed to make them successful in the career path they've chosen. They need to have at least a taste of flying as freshman before they invest their time and tuition dollars in an aviation major."
Maloney says the details of the freshman flying program are still being finalized, and it may be the fall 2004 semester before it begins. In the meantime, with the planes in Kalamazoo, the college may begin offering flying instruction for WMU students who are not aviation majors as well as members of the WMU faculty and staff. The planes also will remain available for upperclassmen, providing a second regular flying venue for all aviation students.
Before moving to Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Airport in 1997, the College of Aviation was located at the Kalamazoo field, but had run out of room for expansion. The University has retained its physical facilities there, at the north end of the field. The buildings are currently used for aeronautical engineering and automotive research, and a wind tunnel is housed there for use by several WMU engineering departments. Enough hangar space, however, is still available to house the eight planes that will be moved there.
"The Kalamazoo field has remained an important part of our flying patterns," Maloney says. "We routinely move our entire fleet there to accommodate the space needs of air shows and balloon festivals in Battle Creek. This new move will just give us a little more flexibility and add some new options to our programs."
The return of some planes to Kalamazoo also will relieve some of the pressure on the Kellogg airfield. In 1996, more than 44,436 takeoffs and landings took place at the field annually. By 1999, the number had risen to 100,733, making the Kellogg Field the fastest growing general aviation airport in the nation, with much of the growth attributed to WMU's College of Aviation. Even with post-9/11 flying cutbacks, the annual landings and takeoffs at the field hit 126,651 in 2002. Beginning aviation WMU students share runways with U.S. Air Force A-10s from the adjacent Air National Guard base as well as local corporate jets and flights by airfreight firms.
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