WMU prepares to open $20M aviation expansion

Calhoun County

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University is just weeks away from opening a new multimillion-dollar expansion at its College of Aviation campus in Battle Creek. 

The majority of the $20 million cost is being covered through state funding, with the university contributing as well. 

Tom Thinnes, the recruitment manager for the college, says the building will provide additional space needed for future growth.  

“The original education aviation center was just over 16,000 square feet. With the new improvements to the building and the additions to the building, we’re going to have an education aviation center that’s over 60,000 square feet,” Thinnes said. “We’re going to go from four classrooms to 11 classrooms. We’re going to see an improved simulator bay.”

The space will also have a plane paint lab, something few aviation programs in the country offer. 

Suzie Targosz a flight instructor at the college and recent graduate, said new spaces like briefing rooms will be helpful for pre- and post-flight meetings with her students. 

“It’s really exciting. It’s really cool to see the old building where I took a lot of my classes and I spent a lot of time and see this new beautiful building,” Targosz said. 

One of the university’s partners, United Airlines, says it plans to hire 10,000 pilots this decade, as well as more workers to fill crucial positions on the ground like technicians and roles in operations. The Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to retire at age 65, which is adding to the number of openings.

“The demand in aviation is significant. The jobs out there are tremendous. Once we get through the COVID craziness, the airline industry will recover. It is already recovering,” Thinnes said. 

Aviation student Hunter Hayes will graduate in December and sees opportunities in industry.  

“It’s been a slow year in the aviation industry but it’s definitely going to expand and continue to expand after that. All the trajectories are saying coming in the next couple months and years to follow there’s going to be a huge increase in demand in pilots and all aviation related careers,” Hayes said. 

The college hopes the facility improvements can set the program apart and allow for growth. 

“I’m biased. I think we’re the best flight school, but I think this will definitely open up a lot of doors and I think it will attract a lot of future students and I think that we can accommodate those students now,” Targosz said. 

The college expects to open the expansion in early May.

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