Dec. 12, 1997
KALAMAZOO -- A two-year, $6 million contract announced Dec. 12 by London-based British Airways will make that firm the first major client of Western Michigan University's new International Pilot Training Centre.
The agreement will bring 32 to 48 beginning pilots to the WMU facility each year for flight training. The International Pilot Training Centre, part of WMU's School of Aviation Sciences, is located in new facilities at Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Airport. The first group of 16 British students will arrive in March for a year of intensive instruction in European-style flight training. A second group will arrive in May and an optional third group in the fall.
The contract is the result of four years of visits between London and Battle Creek by community and University representatives and British Airways executives. It marks the first time the airline has contracted with a U.S. facility for new pilot training. British Airways also announced additional training contracts with two British flight programs.
"We are extremely pleased that our partnership with the leaders of Battle Creek has resulted in this development that will pay dividends to both the community and the University," says Dr. Diether H. Haenicke, president of WMU. "This is a prime example of what can be accomplished when we work together with patience and persistence to foster economic development."
James Hettinger, president and chief executive officer of Battle Creek Unlimited, is one of the community members who worked actively to demonstrate support for the initiative, making two trips to London on behalf of the effort.
"One of the world's premier and largest airlines has recognized that what the University has to offer here is of great value," Hettinger notes. As is often the case in economic development, he says, "once that first major commitment to an effort is made, the other parts follow naturally."
In July, WMU's School of Aviation Sciences became the only collegiate aviation program in the United States to be certified for flight training by the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority, which is the European equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration. In recent years, the school also has moved to revamp its curriculum, increased the size and variety of its training aircraft fleet and acquired state-of-the-art simulators and other training equipment. The school now uses the European "ab initio" method of flight training, which is designed to train students with no previous flight experience.
The school's four-year degree program moved this fall from Kalamazoo to new, larger facilities in Battle Creek and announced the launch of its international training effort. In October, the first class of
self-sponsored international students from Ireland and the United Kingdom enrolled in that program.
According to Joseph H. Dunlap, director of WMU's School of Aviation Sciences, British Airways invited WMU and a number of other international training programs to submit proposals earlier this year.
Five schools eventually were invited to London in November to make formal presentations. WMU was selected along with two other training programs, which are located in the United Kingdom. The three programs will train the firm's approximately 125 new pilots recruited annually.
Dunlap says the selection is a significant development for the University and its aviation program, and he says the contract "sets the stage for things to come in the United States."
"This is a tremendous recognition for WMU from the international aviation community," Dunlap says. "It tells U.S. airlines and others that what we are doing and trying to accomplish is unique and it sets a precedent for the future. At some point, we'd like U.S. airlines to come to us for the same type of training."
Dunlap says the British Airways recruits have gone through an elaborate screening process and characterizes them as "the absolute cream of the crop." After a year in Battle Creek and a four-week jet orientation course in the United Kingdom, he says, they will be fully operational pilots and will typically begin their flight careers as co-pilots/first officers on British Airways 737 or 757 aircraft.
Dunlap says British Airways officials indicated WMU's proposal won their support because of the high quality of its program and its significantly lower costs. The airline also found the prospect of training its pilots in a university setting attractive.
"They told us they were impressed by the level of commitment to the school shown by the community and the University," Dunlap says. "Throughout the process, community leaders came forward and let British Airways know that there is a major commitment by all parts of the community for this significant endeavor."
The selection by British Airways will pay dividends both to the community and to the University's well-established, four-year degree program, Dunlap says. The international students will be living in the community and interacting with American students. The number of jobs supported by WMU's Battle Creek facility will increase as well, with the addition of new instructors and maintenance personnel. WMU's fleet of aviation training aircraft will climb from 30 to 45.
"There is a tremendous synergy taking place here," he says. "Everybody wins."
With negotiations continuing between WMU and two other international airlines, Dunlap predicts that by the end of the year, the school will have more than fulfilled the original goals outlined when the international training effort was announced.
"We said we wanted 50 students the first year and planned to increase slowly until we hit an enrollment of about 150," Dunlap says.
Founded in 1939, WMU's School of Aviation Sciences enrolls 550 students in four degree options and offers the only four-year comprehensive aviation program in Michigan. The school also is home to the Sky Broncos, a precision flying team that has captured top three finishes in national college flying competitions for six consecutive years.
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