OREM — Prospective pilots in aviation classes at Utah Valley State College won't likely be in a holding pattern for long after they graduate.
UVSC, which boasts an Internet-based aviation program, last week signed a training and hiring agreement with SkyWest Airlines, one of the nation's largest regional airlines.
After eight months of talks, a partnership was formed to help UVSC develop courses specifically for airline pilots.
In turn, SkyWest has a direct link to recruit the most-skilled graduates from the fast-growing program, which is housed at the Provo Municipal Airport and serves 725 on-site students.
"This program will enable us to hire pilots who are trained to our standards from the first lesson," said Jim Breeze, director of operations for SkyWest.
Marc Williams, the development director of the college's aviation program, in which students may earn two- and four-year degrees, says the training nearly guarantees graduates job interviews after graduation.
A shortage of pilots with college degrees has air-travel companies turning to creative recruiting efforts at flight schools. But UVSC's newly established tie with SkyWest is among the first in which aviation students across the country can study in the same program at the same time, he said.
As United Airlines has discovered, the country suffers a shortage of trained airline pilots. Some industry insiders say that cutbacks in military funding have shortened the list of available pilots for airline work.
Age also is a factor. Projections indicate that by 2009 nearly 50 percent of airline pilots will turn 60 and will be forced into retirement.
Those spots, plus the jobs created by demand, must be filled with qualified pilots with college degrees. Like SkyWest, many airlines require pilots to have at least an associate's degree.
But aviation students don't need to fly to Utah Valley daily to enroll in the aviation program at UVSC. They can study to take the pilot's seat with a laptop computer on the kitchen table.
Officials at UVSC saw the need for a school that offered both academic and aviation-training classes — and last year created the "Global Aviation Degree Center" via the Utah Electronic Community College www.utah-ecc.org. Cost for the classes through the UECC is $64 per credit hour.
One of the program's Web-based classes this year received an Award of Meritorious Achievement from the University Continuing Education Association, the nation's principal organization for distance learning and continuing education.
Under the UVSC Web-based plan, FAA-approved flight schools can ask the college for "satellite" campus status.
If the flight school has a documented safety record and an up-to-date fleet, UVSC may accept the school as a "partner" and allow the school's students access to Web-based aviation-science classes.
The actual training inside of a plane is completed where the student is enrolled, which, theoretically, could be at any airport in the country. Academic work, though, is delivered electronically by Utah Valley.
Some 200 students are expected to take classes via the Internet this year, Williams said. "We're in registration right now and our phone is ringing off the hook," he said.
UVSC's hope is that students will complete a two-year degree, find a job in the airline industry and then continue studying for a four-year degree on the Web.
"They have the need for well-trained pilots," said Williams, who expects to attract up to 1,000 aviation-science students by this time next year. "SkyWest wants the best pilots, and I think they can find them at UVSC."