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Flying High with CWU Aviation

Central Washington University is no stranger to the growing pains of the flourishing higher education system. Since 1975, the CWU Aviation department has strived to grow with the times, uniquely positioning graduating pilots to take on successful jobs in the aviation industry. Demands are high and growing in the field, helping Central become a critical aviation business partner. Offering comprehensive degrees and direct-hire negotiations after graduation, CWU is really a one-stop-shop for all things flying.

“I chose the aviation program here at Central because of the community the program has around it,” said CWU Aviation major, Dillon Madlener. “On almost all of my flights I've been on, at least one pilot has heard of, or went through, the program here at Central. The program holds a high standard for the students and that will benefit them once they are off to the airlines or anything aviation related.”

After hiring a new aviation chair with over 30 years of experience in international, academic, and business relations, the program is well on its way to stardom. Professor Sundaram Nataraja originally from India but coming with work experience in the Middle East, stepped in with a positive outlook for the department, and his enthusiastic arrival has been warmly received and inspiring.

“The program has had its ups and downs since switching contractors, from Mid-State Aviation to IASCO flight training,” said Madlener. “Even though it has been hard at some points, all the faculty and instructors have done everything they were capable of doing to help each and every student. The instructors here at Central create relationships with most of the students here. This leads to more enjoyable flight training. Good times or bad, it is hard to beat flying around near the Cascades with an instructor who is like a friend.”

In one year, Professor Nataraja has revitalized the aviation program, with plans to “create an even more comprehensive curriculum and new specializations that cover all aspects of aviation and airline needs.”

“We are developing a new Master’s program, which is currently going through the University approval process,” Nataraja said. “Our Master’s program in Aviation Administration will be developed both as a fifth-year program for our current students and as an educational service to the airline industry.”

Credited with the creation of the Pilot Development Program, CWU board member and director of Recruiting at Horizon Air, LaMar Haugaard, has developed this program that will be both beneficial to aviation students and to the company.

“Since 1998, Horizon Air has enjoyed a relationship with CWU aviation,” Haugaard said. “We are excited about the new opportunities for students and for Horizon/Alaska.”

Also on the horizon (pun intended), is a vision for the connection of high school students with the CWU aviation program. A pre-aviation curriculum that would educate high school students, and guide them into the college direction, is the goal in the next few years. Then the idea is to target community colleges that offer an associate’s degree in aviation-related studies.

“What we want to do is streamline the process with a singular articulation that provides a direct transfer into our four-year program,” Nataraja said.

While the aviation program is getting students in the door and majoring in aviation, the post-college route is getting some re-design as well.

“We are establishing direct-hire agreements with industry partners such as regional airlines, airport authorities, and fixed base operations,” Nataraja said.

With the pilot development program that has been developed between Central and Horizon Airlines, CWU anticipates to expand on the concept of traditional hiring agreements by adding a financial incentive. Although this program may not cover all of the costs, it certainly covers some, which assists in flight instructor costs.

“Training bonuses and signing bonuses and financial resources . . . pilots wouldn’t be eligible (for these perks) until they actually started working,” said assistant professor, Jason Underhill. “This partnership gives students the chance to actually get the financial benefits as a student.”

In addition to the new Pilot Development Program, Horizon Air graciously donated a $10,000 flight simulator to CWU’s Flight Training Center. This has enhanced Central’s array of flight-training devices, making CWU the only place on the West Coast where aviation students can experience the CRJ-200 turbo-jet trainer, airline style curriculum, and the advanced turboprop flight trainer.

With enrollment skyrocketing in 2016, the extra equipment could not have come at a better time, according to Nataraja. 100 new students have enrolled in CWU’s aviation program this past year, and Nataraja foresees that number more than doubling in the next few years to come.

A study from Boeing predicts a much larger demand for pilots in the next two decades. The industry will need to supply more than two million new aviation personnel from 2016 until 2035. Knowing this, and because there is currently no enrollment cap for the program, classrooms and airspace are filling up rapidly at Central. During the next legislative session, CWU will be seeking funding to expand the Aviation Training Center at the Bowers Field Airport. A larger facility that would allow growth in the program is what is needed most, so funding has been requested for a hangar facility at Bowers Field Airport, as well as a larger and more comprehensive classroom space for aviation students.

“Once we do move into the [Bowers Field] hanger, it will help my training in many ways,” Madlener said. “It will shorten the time it takes to go preflight and get back to debrief, we won’t have to go out of our way to fuel the planes, and many more reasons; all good ones.” 

The agreement for the Bowers Field Airport hangar facility, will now allow CWU to purchase buildings that Midstate Aviation owns, on property leased from the county.

“This agreement definitely helps aviation move forward with expanding its program,” said Paul Ballard, dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies. “To meet the critical need for more pilots—actually more aviation professionals in general—we have to make room for more students and aircraft.”

Beyond the renovations, moves, and big changes on the horizon for the CWU aviation program, there are still a few main reasons why students choose Central’s program.

“Here in the aviation program, all of the professors and advisors are great. It would be hard to pick only one professor as a favorite,” Madlener said. “From Mr. Underhill to Professor Sloan to Dr. Nataraja and the rest of the professors, they all have different roles in the program but no matter who you are, they take time out of their day to make sure you are doing well. If someone needed help, either school related or not, without a doubt, I believe that any professor in the program would stop and help out no matter what the circumstance.”

To learn more about Central’s aviation program and to read the aviation article in the latest issue of Connections magazine, please click here.


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