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New fleet agreements preserve aviation dominance

Feb. 22, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Two new industry partnerships will allow the Western Michigan University College of Aviation to keep its students flying in a fleet of aircraft that makes WMU's flight training program the most sophisticated collegiate program in the world.

The college has entered long-term business partnerships with Brown Aviation Lease Inc. of Bedford, Mass., and Avidyne Corp. of Lincoln, Mass. Brown has assumed ownership of the college's current fleet of Cirrus aircraft and will upgrade them with new engines. The planes will be retrofitted as well with Avidyne's Entegra II Release 9 flight deck avionics system, a sophisticated new flight system that will give WMU flight students experience that is easily transferable to commercial aviation.

The move came at a time when the college was considering replacing the Cirrus SR 20 fleet it leases. Instead, WMU will lease the same planes back from Brown at a cost approximately $3 million below the cost of negotiating a new fleet lease.

The agreements with the two companies were tailored specifically to meet WMU's needs. For the past five years, WMU has leased a fleet of 26 Cirrus aircraft. For the past two years, the college has been involved in negotiations to trade the leased planes in for the next generation of Cirrus. The entire retrofit and fleet transition, valued at $8 million, includes the value of the airplanes, new engines and the new avionics.

"This is a tremendous deal and will allow us to offer our students the most advanced avionic system used in flight training anywhere," says Dave Powell, dean of the WMU College of Aviation. "We'll continue to offer flight training equipment that keeps us four to five years ahead of every other program--not just in this country, but in the world."

According to Powell, while the University is using general aviation aircraft to train future commercial pilots, his college's goal is to ensure students make a quick and seamless transition to the more complex electronic navigation and communications equipment that are standard in aircraft operated by commercial air carriers.

"We try to equip our general aviation Cirrus aircraft so that they are configured as much as possible like the commercial cockpits our students will use in the future as professional air carrier pilots," Powell says.

"Avidyne's suite puts our students as close as the marketplace allows. It features the same kind of keyboard, display units and nomenclature used in the airline industry. Our graduates go on and report back to us that they are far ahead of other new hires when it's time for them to make the transition to transport category aircraft. They feel right at home in the commercial environment."

According to Brown officials, the agreement dovetails with the company's business model, which focuses on working with the nation's top flight schools.

"This partnership fits perfectly with our overall strategy of enabling top-tier university and independent flight schools and other fleet operators to have access to state-of-the-art aircraft and avionics systems, improving the overall performance, safety and utility of their fleets, and optimizing their ability to attract new students while preserving their operating capital," says Jason Griswold, managing director of Brown Aviation Lease.

For Avidyne, having the company's new avionics system in WMU's fleet will provide an opportunity to showcase their latest technology. Avidyne has developed a full schedule of "Entegra II Release 9 Across America" fly-ins and demonstration seminars. WMU will take planes from its retrofitted fleet to participate in demos at the April 13-18 Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland, Fla., and at the July 27-Aug. 2 Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisc.

Avidyne produces a range of products, including Entegra II, that are designed to make flying safer, more accessible and more enjoyable for pilots and their passengers. Headquartered in Lincoln, Mass., the company has facilities in Columbus, Ohio; Melbourne, Fla; and Boulder, Colo.

Brown Aviation Lease is a full service aviation lessor delivering specialized products for the training industry. Leased products include aircraft logistics and flight data management programs, fleet support products and more. Brown was founded and is currently financed by former owners and management of Alex. Brown and Sons, an eight-generation '"old-style" merchant bank. Founded in 1801, Alex. Brown and Sons is known for helping to establish the Baltimore and Ohio railroad which become the backbone to America's transportation system.

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

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