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WMU aviation college moving into homeland security

Jan. 20, 2006

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.--Western Michigan University's College of Aviation has been quietly building an industry research consortium and is now poised to pursue federal partnerships for work aimed at improving the nation's airline security measures.

"We are putting together an amazing group of collaborators to enhance the significant strengths our college brings to the table," says Capt. Rick Maloney, dean of the WMU College of Aviation. "We plan to combine the resources WMU offers as a research university, the industry experience of our college leadership and the security expertise of our collaborators to address specific areas in which we believe we can make a difference."

Maloney, formerly United Airlines' vice president of flight and system chief pilot, says the college's pursuit of research dollars will focus on four areas that he and other college staff members with extensive industry expertise have identified as areas in which research could be helpful in a post-9/11 environment.

The college will focus on:

  • on-board communications between the cockpit and the flight attendants;
  • the use of in-flight video monitors and wireless communications;
  • cockpit defense and control strategies; and
  • development of universal standards for air-to-air communications.

Maloney does not want to give more specifics about some of these challenging areas, but he says his colleagues in and out of the industry regard them as critical.

"Here in the college, we have an in-depth knowledge of airline operations and what goes on in the cockpit," says Maloney. "We also have the capability and experience to look at these issues methodically, scientifically evaluate the proposed solutions, and formulate technical and training protocols to address these challenges."

The proposed collaborators for research include a firm with extensive non-aviation homeland security credentials, a second firm with experience in airline security training and one commercial airline that has a track record in the innovative use of technology for security purposes. Maloney also hopes to bring the faculty and staff of the Michigan aviation community colleges into the
mix--especially in the areas of criminal justice and law enforcement training. Memoranda of understanding are in the process of being developed. In addition, researchers will seek input from aviation industry professional groups.

"For the research questions we're posing, there are no easy answers. I know that from my experience as an aviation executive," he says. "But we believe we will be able to bring a meaningful dialogue to the industry concerns, and our proposed solutions will be backed by solid research."

Developing these research strategies and solutions is both a personal and professional issue for Maloney, who came to WMU from United in 2003--nearly two years after he played a central role in the airline's emergency response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Two United planes, their crews and passengers were among those lost that day, and Maloney was part of the United team that had to get 2,400 other flights down at the nearest available airfields. He has spoken about that experience in public forums and shared the pain of losing close friends and colleagues, who were among those who died.

Maloney's senior leadership and research team includes four other former United senior flight executives. Two are researchers with extensive experience in the area of crew resource management, training and assessment, and two others were instrumental in formulating and implementing United's response to the terrorists attacks. College researchers, using the college's Center for Excellence in Simulation Research, are involved in a multimillion-dollar effort to transfer aviation industry simulation and training techniques to other industries.

WMU's College of Aviation has educated aviation professionals since 1939 and offers complete academic degree programs leading to a bachelor's degree in three areas--aviation flight science, aviation management and maintenance technology. The college enrolls some 800 students and is located at W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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