Workers broke ground on an expansion to Western Michigan University aviation program at the W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek on May 10.
The expansion will see the construction of a 67,000-square-foot instructional facility for the College of Aviation. The will cost $20 million, $15 million of which will be covered by a state grant, and construction is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.
The new facility will include additional classroom spaces, a computer lab, a research center and an upgraded composites and paints lab among other features. The highlight of the center is a state-of-the-art simulation center.
According to a University press release, WMU’s aviation program has grown 35 percent over the past five years to around 1,000 students enrolled in the program. Dave Powell, the college’s dean, attributes this growth to the increased demand across the aviation industry for both pilots and engineers. According to an industry report by Boeing, by 2034 the aviation industry will need more than 1 million newcomers: 558,000 pilots and 609,000 maintenance technicians.
Discussing the growth, Powell told WMU News: "The needs of our industry are tremendous, and these trends are expected to continue as projected increases in passenger traffic fuel the demand for these highly skilled, highly paid industry jobs."
Powell was unavailable for additional comment at this time.
According to a statement by the University, the hope is for WMU’s aviation program to become the premier choice for students in Michigan and across the country. This coincides with the school’s selection for a National Air Transportation Association Industry Excellence Award. This is the first time in the award’s history that a four-year institution has been selected.
NATA President Gary Dempsey released a statement saying: "For over 30 years, the association has celebrated those that embody the spirit of general aviation, serving as model examples for their peers and the next generation of aviation leaders. NATA is excited to once again recognize the accomplishments of individuals and organizations that contribute to advancing the health and vitality of our industry.”
The construction of the new facility adds to a large list of ongoing construction projects for the University. The demolition of McCracken Hall is set to complete within the next month, and construction of the new student center will begin in August where McCracken formerly stood. Other major construction includes the ongoing South Neighborhood revitalization project, including the construction of new housing adjacent to the Burnhams, as well as the renovation of the first floor of Waldo Library.