When 23,000 aging airline pilots retire over the next 10 years, Utah Valley State College pilots will be ready to take off in their places.
Adding new planes and new opportunities for advanced cockpit training, the aviation program at UVSC is taking off in an industry that has been glutted with military pilots but is likely to see many of them leaving shortly.The military once trained more pilots than the commercial industry could employ once they returned to civilian life, but now it requires an average of 14 years to develop a pilot, and the military is loath to let them go.
"They're no longer doing that (training pilots)," said Michael Falgoust, director of flight operation and training at UVSC. "They're basically just getting out of the business of training new pilots for other than the military.
"We looked at the situation and said, where are these pilots going to come from? Then I said, `By golly, I have this course for training pilots,' " said Falgoust. "We decided this was a real opportunity for us."
The UVSC aviation science program started with 56 students in a ground-level course. The enrollment at last count numbered several hundred.
It's now expanded to a two-year associate degree with an emphasis in aviation science, and work is under way to launch a four-year program. The directors have rented a hangar at the Provo airport.
A student can qualify as a flight instructor or as a commercial pilot with many top students going immediately into jobs that ultimately pay six-figure salaries.
The directors are aggressively seeking new aircraft and models for the students to work on to give them a variety of experiences with engines, instrument panels, landing gear, radar and crew sizes.
Adding the most recent plane - a state-of-the-art Diamond Aircraft Katana DA20 - makes it possible for students to work with the latest technology in a lightweight composite-material aircraft with two seats, constant speed propeller and night-visual flight capability.
The $80,000 craft is being leased with an option to buy.
The Merlin prop jet metro-liner was obtained through a trade agree-ment for a Skyvan the school owned. It offers students practical experience in multiengine passenger liner aircraft that can fly at an airspeed of 200 mph.
A $2.7 million donation of helicopters from the United States Army opens up yet another avenue of airflight education.
"We're forming a preferred-hire list here working with the commuter industry to prepare students for airline positions. We're excited about the growth in the program and the possibilities," said Ron Smart, program director. "Aviation is a very international business, and the jobs aren't just in America."
According to the FAA in 1991, airlines carried 500 million passengers and are expected to carry double that amount by 2015.
"Things are changing dramatically. Approximately 60 percent of all of the pilots will retire," Smart said, "and we'll have ours trained, ready to go. We're the only ones supplying pilots, so I'm looking to get scholarships in place and push the program to a four-year."
A direct contract with Alpine Air guarantees the top 10 percent of course graduates jobs as flight instructors. American Air and Trans World Airways are negotiating contracts with the department.
Students face several challenges. The course is financially demanding, with the average student investing an average of $20,000 in flight time, etc., before he or she is finished.
It's intellectually challenging, too.
Many students start with the dream but wash out when reality sinks in, said Falgoust. "It isn't easy. You've got to grasp fundamental principles of science and math or you're gone."
For some, the lifestyle is unappealing. Commercial liner pilots are on call frequently and spend several days in a row away from home.
Physically, a pilot must meet stringent eyesight and health requirements.
"That's one reason we recommend a dual major," said Falgoust. "That way if your medical points put you out, you have a backup."