New state funding will help WMU's aviation programs soar

Contact: Cheryl Roland
Photo of WMU's College of Aviation.

Construction design and planning for the project will begin immediately.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University has received authorization from the state to begin work on a 67,000-square-foot addition and renovation that will allow its celebrated College of Aviation to prepare more students for the future demands of the aviation industry.

The state budget, completed by the Michigan Legislature Wednesday and now on Gov. Rick Snyder's desk for final approval, includes authorization for the WMU project that is expected to cost $20 million, with $15 million from the state and the balance raised by the University. The project is focused on a complete renovation and addition to the college's Aviation Education Center, which is located on the college's W.K. Kellogg Airport campus in Battle Creek, Michigan.

With a target completion date of summer 2019, the enlarged and renovated space will allow the college to grow enrollment in a way that will meet predicted job demand for aircraft pilots and avionics equipment professionals. When complete, the facility will include additional classroom space, upgrades to existing composite and paint labs, a state-of-the-art simulation facility and a cutting-edge research center, as well as student briefing rooms and faculty office space.

"Our aviation college has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the nation's top collegiate aviation programs," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "This thoughtful decision by the Legislature means we will be able to continue to expand our facilities to meet the growing needs in the industry for well-prepared professionals. The entire southwest Michigan delegation collaborated on this effort to ensure WMU remains Michigan's best resource to prepare students who will lead the industry for years to come."

Dunn singled out Sen. Mike Nofs and Rep. John Bizon for their leadership in keeping the capital outlay moving forward.

"This was an effort by the whole delegation," says Dunn." And Sen. Nofs and Rep. Bizon were particularly instrumental in the process."

College of Aviation

WMU's College of Aviation is among the oldest such academic units in the nation, beginning in 1939 and evolving over time from a single program to its current status as a full academic college. It has been located at the Battle Creek air field since 1997 and has been the site of nationally recognized flight teams and state-of-the-art flight and technical training initiatives and important research undertakings. The college offers majors in Aviation Flight Sciences, Aviation Science and Administration and Aviation Maintenance Technology. The WMU College of Aviation is the only comprehensive collegiate aviation program in the state.

The college is focused on helping to meet an explosive demand for new industry personnel. With current industry professionals retiring and the FAA predicting that flight travel will double by 2032, the industry is faced with the need for more than a million highly skilled new professionals by 2034. 

"We offer an educational experience few other schools can replicate, and our growth has only been impeded by the physical demands for space this kind of training requires," says Capt. Dave Powell, dean of the college and a former United Airlines executive. "We know that we have the pieces in place to produce the industry's next generation of leaders. I'm so thankful our legislators have shown their support in a way that will keep us and our state at the forefront of this vital part of the aviation industry."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, Michigan ranked fourth in the nation for aerospace job growth in the years 2007 to 2012.  Aviation jobs represent some of the highest paying jobs in Michigan, with pilots' median annual income at $111,680. WMU's program was the first in the nation to become part of an American Airlines pilot-hiring program to provide a steady stream of well-qualified pilots to the airline.

The approved expansion will allow the college, now at capacity with more than 870 students, to continue to turn out much-needed young professionals. The renovation and 67,000-square-foot addition to the Aviation Education Center also will address current energy use deficiencies, improve safety initiatives, address accessibility issues and meet new technology needs.

Construction design and planning will begin immediately.  The completed project  is expected to meet the LEED Silver certification standards. 

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