Airline staff shortages impacting WMU’s College of Aviation

Calhoun County

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation in Battle Creek is a busy place with students flying in and out of the Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field. 

“Turned it into the third or fourth busiest airport in Michigan due to operations and engagement of our students,” said Tom Thinnes, the college’s manager of recruitment, outreach and marketing.

The college’s goal is to help pilots move up in the industry. WMU students become flight instructors once they graduate. As flight instructors they’re eligible to be hired by regional airlines. 

The aviation industry is going through a hiring blitz as airlines are looking to rebound from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many have had to cancel flights in recent months, partly because of staff shortages. American Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights last week, citing both staff shortages and weather.

The major airlines are hiring talent from regional airlines, which in turn is impacting Western’s College of Aviation. 

“Then requires regionals to hire, which then start pulling from our ranks, which then causes backlogs in flight training,” Thinnes said. 

WMU has lost 39 flight instructors in the last six months. While 37 have been replaced, new students are feeling the impact. 

“COVID-19 hit, which caused an increase in that backlog,” Thinnes said. “Put us back about two years. All of our incoming students in fall 2021, we told them from the get go that we’re about two years behind in flight training.”

Thinnes adds that entry level salaries for pilots have increased significantly in the past four to five years, which is creating interest in the field. Additionally, he says there’s a demand for pilots because veteran pilots are reaching retirement age. 

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