Aviation program fills big need

Retirements, military rules send demand for pilots soaring

News Staff Reporter

Ludington is a long way to go for a snack, but Derek Van Aken recently made the trip there and back in about four hours, flying a small plane out of Willow Run Airport.

Van Aken, 22, of Monroe, is enrolled in Eastern Michigan University's aviation program.

The solo flight to Ludington was to earn flight time toward his commercial pilot's license. While there, he stopped at Burger King, grabbed a bite to eat and then flew home.

Van Aken hopes to graduate next summer with a bachelor's degree and the pilot's license.

"I'll fly anything for anyone. It's not about the money. You're in command," Van Aken said.

Students in the program start flying as freshmen, said Alex Bloye, chief flight instructor for the program. At graduation, they are ready to be hired by regional or corporate air services, Bloye said. The graduates also often stay on as flight instructors at the school, Bloye said.

There is a demand for pilots both because of retirements and because the military is not the training ground for pilots that it once was, said Anthony Adamski, program coordinator for EMU's Aviation Flight Technology program. Now the military requires a longer commitment to the service from its potential pilots, which means military-trained pilots tend to stay in the service until retirement, Adamski said.

Graduates who become commercial pilots can expect to earn about $180,000 a year within 10 years, Adamski said.

In addition to the flight school, EMU's program includes aviation management courses, so graduates can work in many different aviation areas, including dispatch and scheduling, aviation finance and aviation law, Adamski said.

For information on the program, visit http://www.emich.edu/sts/aviation_flight.htm.