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Aviation Program Spreads Wings to Owensboro

Aviation director and students in front of aircraft

Eastern Kentucky University Aviation has spread its wings again, partnering with Owensboro Community and Technical College to bring its nationally renowned program to the western Kentucky/southwest Indiana area.

Soon, the Owensboro Regional Airport will be buzzing with EKU aircraft, thanks to a 2 + 2 agreement signed by EKU President Michael Benson and OCTC President Scott Williams. It is the fourth such agreement where Eastern has joined with community and technical colleges statewide in an effort to prepare pilots for the 500,000 openings expected over the next 20 years.

Beginning in January 2016, students will be able to begin the flight portion of their degree at the Owensboro airport. But they can begin now or continue to take classes toward their associate of arts degree at OCTC. In fact, several who have expressed an interest in the program have already earned their two-year degree. The aviation courses will be taught by local instructors hired by EKU. The upper division courses for juniors and seniors will be offered entirely online by EKU.

Setting the stage for the partnership, the FAA in 2013 granted special authority for EKU aviation-professional flight graduates to take the Restricted Airline Transport Pilot (R-ATP) check ride at 1,000 hours. More recently, the FAA added the University’s aviation-aerospace technology degree-completion pathway, designed for community colleges, to its list of approved “1,000 hour-power” degrees. Thus, EKU offers the nation’s only FAA-approved “1,000-hour power” R-ATP 2 + 2 degree pathway to aviation careers.

So, along with their associate degree and bachelor’s degrees, OCTC students will be able to complete their FAA private pilot through instructor pilot certificates and ratings, and simultaneously earn their R-ATP “1,000-hour power” certificate. This enables the airlines to hire the OCTC/EKU graduate at 1,000 hours instead of waiting until 1500 total hours.

Another unique aspect to this partnership is the inclusion of MidAmerica Jet (MAJ), based at the Owensboro (OWB) airport, and the leadership team from the OWB Airport executive board. Collectively they have proposed a collaborative effort to ‘co-hire’ graduates of the EKU program to both instruct as EKU flight instructors, teaching incoming OCTC students, as well as flying as a MAJ air charter first officer. 

“We are putting together a one-of-a-kind program in aviation that offers an OCTC/EKU graduate an ‘employment pipeline’ that provides the real world experience needed by new pilots before they move on to larger aircraft,” said Pete Carroll, the MAJ VP of Flight Operations. “In a conventional career path, a new graduate would simply instruct for approximately three years in small piston aircraft. Conversely, the OWB/MAJ/OCTC/EKU pathway will offer new pilots a strategic career advantage over their peers in the industry, because they will complete their first flying job as qualified captains, accumulate flight time in turbine jet aircraft and gain operational experience in advanced technology cockpits.

“The airline job market is wide open,” said Ralph Gibbs, director of EKU’s Aviation program.

"Out of four EKU students recently interviewed by Express Jet Airline Recruiters, three were offered jobs as first officers,” he noted. “All they had to do to cash in on the conditional offer of employment was to complete their BS degree and fly 1,000 total flight hours.”

Gibbs said he will invite all the regional airline recruiters, like Express Jets, to visit Owensboro and the other 2 + 2 sites, just as they now do at the Richmond campus.

“This will give our students the opportunity to receive a one-of-kind education and receive a job offer right here in Owensboro without ever leaving home,” noted President Williams. The Owensboro airport director, Bob Whitmer, added that OCTC/EKU student pilots will have the unique opportunity to receive their initial training at a tower controlled airport. Most Kentucky student pilots have to fly some distance to learn the procedures for operating within a tower control zone.

"It’s a win-win for all of us,” Williams added.

Eastern already has similar agreements with community and technical colleges in Hazard, Middlesboro, and Ashland, and hopes to blanket the state where community and technical colleges are co-located with a regional airport. “Our goal,” Benson said, “is to fly the EKU flag at every regional airport in the Commonwealth and across the United States.”

For more information about the EKU Aviation Program, visit www.aviation.eku.edu.

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Published on September 29, 2015

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