WMU breaks ground on College of Aviation expansion

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — A passion to fly brought Western Michigan University Junior Ethan Pressl to the school’s College of Aviation.

“My grandmother likes to say I had my head up towards the sky whenever a plane would fly over when I was playing T-ball when I was little,” the Chicago native said.

“When I was in eighth grade for my birthday, my mom bought me a Discovery flight back in Chicago and that’s just kind of like this is, what I want to do for a career,” Pressl added.

An expanded College of Aviation will help more students realize flight as a career. 

WMU plans to add 67,000 square feet to the current school located at the WK Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek.

The price tag is $20 million, but the crucial number is 1,000. That’s how many students have taken part in the program in the last five years — an increase of 35 percent. The aviation industry needs every one of them.

“American, Delta and United, in the next 10 years, 50 percent of their pilots will retire. In the next 20 years, all of them will retire… statistically speaking,” said Capt. Dave Powell, Dean of WMU’s College of Aviation.

Since the early 2000s, multiple circumstances have driven people away from the aviation industry, including low pay. But demand has helped change that, especially among pilots who typically start with the smaller, regional airlines.

“They were making about $23,000 a year. Today, they’re making $70,000 a year,” said Powell.

Western’s expansion will also help train management and mechanics — the other aviation workers in high demand.

“(It) doesn’t matter if you have a shortfall of pilots at that point ‘cause you can’t fly the airplanes anyway because there’s nobody to fix them,” explained Powell.

The project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020, with classes beginning that fall.

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