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Central Washington University

CWU Aviation Restructures to Earn Accreditation, Satisfy New FAA Rules

Central Washington University's aviation program is enriching the quality of instruction and training to meet stringent new requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and to earn program accreditation, which is increasingly a priority for the aviation-industry partners who hire CWU graduates.

In July, the FAA passed a rule requiring pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight experience and an Airline Transport rating to fly passenger and cargo airlines. The rule exempts graduates of accredited and approved four-year aviation programs, who can be hired with 1,000 hours flight time. 

“We've got to move quickly to make sure we're providing the kind of education that puts our graduates first in line for jobs,” said Connie Lambert, dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies. “Accreditation has become a high priority for employers, so it's a high priority for us, too.” 

Last week, CWU issued a “Request For Information” (RFI) to flight school contractors, inviting them to provide information about their ability to provide flight instruction for the program. CWU faculty provide classroom instruction that is highly integrated with flight instruction in aircraft and simulators. Contractors must be an FAA-approved flight school and provide certified flight instructors who hold bachelor’s degrees. Contractors also must ensure curriculum is approved by CWU. Both elements are necessary to meet the requirements of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the agency that accredits CWU.

CWU also will seek new program-specific accreditation from the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI). Through the two-year, peer-reviewed accreditation process, AABI approves curriculum and program outcomes—what program graduates should know and be able to do.

CWU President James L. Gaudino said the RFI cites a preference for the flight training to occur at Bowers Field Airport, in Ellensburg, both because the location is most convenient for students and because the role of the program is critical to sustaining the FAA classification of Bower's Field Airport, two miles north of Ellensburg. The CWU program's 95 students fly nearly 6,800 hours per year and account for about 80 percent of take-offs and landings at the airport.

“Bowers Field is an important asset to the economic profile of Kittitas County in general, and Ellensburg in particular,” noted Gaudino, who said that the university already had been contacted for more information by regional flight-training providers. “We will continue to provide excellent flight training for our students, and I do hope it can be at Bowers Field. But there are many facilities and contractors in the state that can provide this service.”

CWU faculty teach aviation classroom content, but for many years flight training has been provided at Bowers Field Airport by Mid State Aviation. In June, Mid State Aviation notified the university that it would not renew CWU’s contract, which ends in August 2014.

While CWU searches for a new contractor, the aviation program is taking several other steps to enhance education and training, including the development of a comprehensive, industry-standard safety plan. The plan will include a safety policy that establishes the university's commitment to continually improve safety, and a risk management strategy. The plan also will incorporate safety-assurance measures to evaluate the effectiveness of on-going risk-control strategies, and a plan to promote safety and create a workplace culture that values safety.

“The industry-standard safety plan is required for accreditation and an important component of professional education,” said Amy Hoover, the chair of the Department of Aviation. “Employers are placing a tremendous premium on graduates who value and understand the importance of a comprehensive and consistent approach to safety and who graduate knowing how an industry-standard safety plan works.”

Demand for pilots is expected to require nearly half a million more commercial airline pilots over the next 20 years. The 2013 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook says a key driver of the demand is “surging aviation demand in emerging markets.”

Hoover said the increased demand has combined with increased training requirements and a surge of pilot retirements to create a “perfect storm” in the aviation industry.

“The new 1,500-hour requirement is a two-fold increase in flight-experience time—which increases the cost as well as the time needed to become a pilot,” said Hoover, who said another new rule that adds rest time to pilots' schedules will require many airlines to increase their pilot workforce by five percent. “We're doing what it takes to stay ahead of changes in the aviation industry and to increase the number of aviation graduates we produce.”

Hoover said that a program innovation in 2012 now allows pilots to earn a CWU bachelor's degree in three years instead of four. CWU has established direct-hire agreements with Horizon Air, American Eagle, and Pinnacle Airlines. CWU is the only public university in the Northwest that offers a bachelor of science degree in aviation and the only place on the West Coast where aviation students can experience the CRJ-200 turbo-jet trainer, airline style curriculum, and the technically advanced turboprop flight trainer.


Media Contact:  Linda Schactler, executive director, CWU Public Affairs, 509-607-4103, schactler@cwu.edu