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Originally published in the Battle Creek Enquirer, June 14, 2013
Well over thirteen years later, the Western Michigan University College of Aviation continues to be a strong anchor at the W.K. Kellogg Airport.
The College of Aviation has over seven hundred enrollments from twenty different states. It leads all colleges within WMU with badly needed enrollment increases.
WMU’s flight training operations make the airport one of the busiest in the state. People who think there is nothing going on out there should consult some statistics.
The future continues to be bright for WMU aviation graduates. There are shortages of pilots, aviation maintenance technicians, airport administrators, and air traffic controllers. All of these categories are essential to a healthy national and state economy.
WMU’s strategic competency in aviation education is widely recognized by the industry. Graduates can at least be guaranteed interviews for positions, which is a real advantage over, say, a sociology degree.
With a consistently high number of flight operations and with the aforementioned skills shortages, one wonders how the federal government, even in it’s sequester stupor, could possibly have contemplated closing the air traffic control tower in Battle Creek.
Flight operations at other Michigan airports are far less numerous and lack the strategic value of a program and an airport that contribute handsomely to the high desirable middle class jobs that we all hear about ad infinitum.
These airports lack the activity and the strategic value of a major university pumping out skilled workers for an industry in which our country enjoys global pre-eminence.
The general aviation market includes more than 320,000 aircraft worldwide. 220,000 are based in the U.S., alone, contributing to the strong need for WMU College of Aviation graduates.
Currently, more than 1.2 million people make their livelihoods in the general aviation sector that pumps $150 billion a year into the U.S. economy.
Within Michigan, alone, general aviation contributes $19 billion annually into the state economy. 52 charter flight companies operate in Michigan. They and other aviation entities are serviced by 119 repair stations in Michigan. One thousand Michigan companies depend upon general aviation.
Contrary to the Washington folderol, these are middle level people — technicians and engineers that need to be able to efficiently reach company sites across the country, but especially in the rural areas.
WMU is seeking state assistance in the Capital Outlay process in Lansing. New simulators, classrooms, and aircraft will be needed very soon, if not now. In providing world class aviation education, WMU and Battle Creek are Michigan’s only real sources for providing well educated workers for the aviation industry.
There are no in-state competitors. WMU is frequently mentioned in the ranks of the five best universities in the nation. As such, it ought to be treated as a state flagship program — from the governor on down. If it isn’t, shame on us.
So, if you see anybody from the Lansing delegation, tell them they need to support aviation education in Michigan. If you see anybody from our Washington delegation, ask them what on earth were they thinking?
Jim Hettinger is the chief provocateur of Urban(e) Development Services and retired chief executive of Battle Creek Unlimited. His email address is email@example.com.