WMU News

Delta partnership impacts future U.S. flight crews

Jan. 18, 2001

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -- Increasing numbers of women and minorities will be piloting the nation's commercial aircraft, thanks to a new agreement between Delta Air Lines and WMU announced Jan. 9 at the College of Aviation campus in Battle Creek.

The announcement drew some 40 top Delta executives and WMU alumni who work for Delta as well as national representatives of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots. They arrived on a chartered Delta 727 from Atlanta moments before the announcement of Delta's support for pilot education.

With $1.65 million in support from Delta over a four-year period, WMU will begin training a minimum of 24 and as many as 40 women and minority pilots who, once training is completed, will be given priority employment consideration by Delta Connection carriers Comair and Atlantic Southeast Airlines . The students will include highly qualified graduate students as well as specially recruited undergraduates who will be trained using WMU's "ab initio," or "from the beginning," flight training curriculum.

Their successful integration into the ranks of commercial pilots will help address an industry-wide lack of female and minority representation in the cockpit. Minorities now account for just 1 percent of pilots and flight engineers. Slightly more than 5 percent are women.

"This investment in quality pilot education will ensure that we are able to continue to build a superior Delta team and will establish Delta as a leader in the hiring of women and minority pilots for many years to come," said Malcolm B. "Mac" Armstrong, Delta's executive vice president of operations of the venture. "We're excited and pleased to launch this relationship with WMU."

"We have a long-term commitment to expanding educational opportunities for women and minorities so they can take full advantage of employment opportunities in the aviation industry," said President Elson S. Floyd. "This partnership reflects Delta's support, not only for that work, but also for the contributions our College of Aviation has made in developing ab initio pilot education."

Traditionally, most commercial airline pilots received their training while completing military service. As the pool of military pilots shrinks, airlines are looking for innovative ways to bring highly-trained individuals into the commercial pilot ranks.

WMU's ab initio curriculum is a European-style flight training regimen that takes students with no previous flight experience through a complete program and prepares them for employment as first officers at commercial airlines. WMU began incorporating ab initio training into its undergraduate program in 1994 when it redesigned its curriculum to meet what representatives of the U.S. aviation industry said were the industry's most pressing needs. The University is the only training program in the world approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to provide such ab initio training in accordance with FAA regulations.

During the announcement of Delta's funding of the new program, Capt. Dave Bushy, Delta senior vice president for flight operations, said his firm is looking forward to having new WMU graduates as candidates for future flight crews. He called Delta's decision to partner with WMU "yet another endorsement of the strength of one of the greatest aviation programs in the country."

The first eight graduate students recruited for the Delta program will begin their training at WMU this May and will spend 14 months on campus preparing for their flight careers. In addition, four undergraduates will be recruited to begin WMU's four-year bachelor's degree program in the fall. Delta and WMU will work together to recruit and screen candidates for both levels of training.

WMU's College of Aviation has worked since the mid-1990s to substantially boost the number of women and minorities in the aviation industry. A 1995 grant and subsequent funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation was used to launch an intense effort aimed at recruiting students early in their high school careers, giving them early flight experience and providing scholarship resources for them to attend WMU. WMU's enrollment of women and minority students has more than tripled since 1997.

WMU personnel have worked with schools throughout Michigan and in urban areas including Detroit and Philadelphia to introduce information about aviation careers. They have also worked with the Organization of Black Airline Pilots to recruit students to summer aviation camps and for enrollment in WMU's aviation programs. Delta and OBAP jointly sponsored Dreamflight 2000, a summer program that sent 150 aspiring aviators to Washington, D.C., aboard a chartered Delta flight. Those young students took time from their summer activities at Atlanta Public Schools, Aviation Career Enrichment Weekend Flight Academy, Civil Air Patrol and the Atlanta Aviation Career Education (ACE) Camp for the one-day field trip to the nation's Capital.

During the announcement, Capt. Robert Brown, president of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots, praised the University for having the foresight to address the problem of minority and female underrepresentation in the cockpit. And he praised Delta for committing to the effort.
"I want to applaud Delta for taking a bold step, which is basically unheard of in American aviation," he said.

Delta Air Lines, headquartered in Atlanta, serves passengers with 5,196 flights each day to 353 cities in 59 countries on Delta, Delta Express, Delta Shuttle, the Delta Connection carriers and Delta's Worldwide Partners.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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