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NoLimits-Southwest Airlines Internship Experience

Western Michigan University - College of Aviation

NoLimits-Southwest Airlines Intership Experience
Michael Gortowski
Aviation Maintenance Technology 

My journey began in September of 2013 when I applied to the Southwest Airlines NoLimits Internship, for the Maintenance Program Specialist position.  After submitting my application and my resume, I waited anxiously for a phone call or at least an email.  A few months went by, and finally in February of 2014, I received a voicemail from an HR representative, expressing an interest in scheduling an over the phone interview!  What a surprise this was, an incredible feeling, a surreal moment.   From that moment on, things started moving very quickly.

I scheduled a phone interview for March 6, 2014, and few days later, I received an invitation to fly out to Dallas, TX for a second interview on March 21, 2014 at the Southwest Airlines Headquarters.  As soon as I received the invitation, I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase my passion for the field of aviation.  I could not believe that this was really happening!  I grabbed my phone and immediately called my sister and brother-in-law to prepare for the interview.  Preparation was the key!  I knew that this was the opportunity of a lifetime.  Being invited to the interview by itself felt like an award winning experience.  I was feeling very lucky, because Southwest Airlines had received about 14,000 applications for the summer internship, but out of the 14,000 applicants, only 113 were selected to join the NoLimits Internship.  

I was officially accepted into the Southwest Airlines NoLimits Internship on March 26, 2014; a 12-week summer internship from May 19th through August 8th.   This was my first trip to Texas and my first major trip away from home and school.  I didn’t know a single soul in Dallas, TX and this was a true test of the real world and complete independence.  I drove to Dallas a week before my internship started, because I needed to find a place to live.  My suggestion for all future interns is to find a roommate as soon as possible!  The apartment market in Texas is very expensive, and it’s tough to find a short-term lease.  I had to stay in a hotel for the first 2 weeks, and I was very fortunate to find three roommates who were also interns at the Southwest Airlines NoLimits Internship.

At the beginning of my internship, I felt overwhelmed and under pressure to perform well.  But after my first week, I was able to adjust to the new work environment.  As a Maintenance Program Specialist, my job was to review Southwest Airlines’ maintenance program for completeness, accuracy, and regulatory compliance, including maintenance instructions used by the Southwest Airlines technicians to ensure accurate and efficient compliance for required tasks.  I was also updating and auditing computer based systems for tracking the Southwest Airlines maintenance program requirements.

This internship gave me insight into the airline industry.  I learned a lot about the maintenance side of the airline business, especially about the maintenance and regulatory compliance with the FAA.  I was also exposed to other departments within Southwest Airlines.  During the internship, interns were encouraged to spend some time in other departments to learn and explore different aspects of the working world within the company.  My top pick was fuel management and fuel operations, where I had the chance to learn more about Jet A fuel, and about the purchasing and supply of fuel. I also spent some time on the Dallas flight line observing fueling operations.

I worked 40 hours per week, Monday through Friday.  I was assigned to a cubicle down the hall from the hanger.  I spent most of my time looking at regulatory paperwork, task cards, Airworthiness Directives, Supplemental Type Certificates, and attending meetings with my supervisor.  On the way to lunch, I would always cut through the hangar and ramp to check out the Boeing 737.  Southwest Airlines is a wonderful place to work.  The work environment is very joyful and positive.  The company treats its employees very well and everyone has a smile on their face.  The NoLimits Internship is not only about work, Southwest Airlines takes philanthropy and charitable work very seriously, and reaching out to impoverished communities and those in need is an integral part of the company’s culture and beliefs.  With a team of interns, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the local food bank in Dallas, Texas.  It felt good to give back to the community in need.

One way Southwest Airlines showed their appreciation towards their employees and interns was by hosting a deck party every Monday, outside the headquarters building.  All of the Southwest Airlines employees were invited to eat, grab a drink, play games, and have a chance to win a prize.  But one of the biggest perks of working for Southwest Airlines was the opportunity to fly for free on standby, anywhere in the United States.  Thank you Southwest Airlines!  This was the best gift ever.  I spent almost every weekend this summer flying for free and visiting some of the best cities in the world like San Francisco, San Diego, and Las Vegas.  In addition, I made new friends from other universities and cities across the U.S.  I had the opportunity to network and build connections with many professionals within this industry; people that have been in the aviation field for a very long time.  I was very fortunate to be a part of the Southwest Airlines family and have a great supervisor and mentor, Jack Roth.

My internship with Southwest Airlines has been my greatest achievement and experience!  This opportunity has added tremendous value towards my career goals, personal development, and resume.  I gained first hand experience on the maintenance side of commercial airlines.  Prior to my internship, I was leaning towards becoming an aircraft maintenance technician for private/ business jets.  This internship has opened my eyes on a different level.  I have set my mind to go into commercial airline maintenance.  Overall I feel very lucky, grateful, and honored to have been part of the Southwest Airlines team.  I learned a lot from this internship, and hope to apply my experiences toward my academic work at the College of Aviation at WMU and my future career endeavors.

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Why I Chose WMU

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Western Michigan University
Why I Chose WMU
Rob Minielly
Aviation Flight Science 

Before making my decision to attend Western Michigan University, I was considering other schools for aviation all over the country. I flew out to California, Arizona, and Texas. I loved every campus I toured and loved the states even more. Who doesn’t want to live in California? Or even Texas or Arizona? It was a tough decision to pick a school because all of them had so much to offer. In Arizona, Texas, and California, you have blue skies over 75% of the year. Arizona offered a tougher flight-training program because most of the flying was in the mountains. Both schools in Texas had planes with the standard six-pack, which in my opinion challenges students more than flying an airplane equipped with a glass-cockpit. When I toured Western Michigan University, initially, I was not impressed with Kalamazoo, which is where main campus is located. I did not like the atmosphere compared to the cities other schools were in, and initially did not want to attend a school with the reputation of a party town. But in the end, I chose Western Michigan University and here is why.

Party town. Let’s be honest here, every college has parties whether you are at Arizona State University or a small division 2 college. Attending Western Michigan University has actually been beneficial to me because it has taught me to be independent, and not give into activities that are going on if I have things to do. I know when I can go have fun and when I need to stay in to get things done.

Kalamazoo was just rated the seventh most fun city in the state. There are plenty of things to do if you step out of the campus bubble and venture out. During summer breaks, I spend a lot of my time fishing on the numerous lakes 15 minutes south of Kalamazoo, boating, and driving to South Haven, a city on the shore of Lake Michigan, with all of my friends. I also enjoy riding my dirt bike on the trails all over West Michigan and have also found a track to race at 20 minutes north of Kalamazoo. In the fall, I spend all of my free time hunting. West Michigan is great for hunting, especially the state land because it is usually unpopulated which is extremely rare in other parts of the state. As for Western, our sporting events are always a hot spot to be. Our hockey games are known to get wild. The student section, called the “Lawson Lunatics,” was voted the second best student section in all of college hockey. College is what you make of it. Venturing out of the campus bubble allowed for a great three years. I have visited many schools where my friends attend and I can honestly say Western Michigan University has some of the friendliest people you will meet. You can walk up to anyone and instantly make new friends.

In terms of academics, the College of Aviation is primarily why I chose Western Michigan University.  They have a name respected nationwide, state-of-the-art aircraft, and faculty with unrivaled experience. While wearing a WMU Aviation shirt, I cannot tell you the number of times that someone has come up to me and asked about our aviation program and shared the good things they have heard. Our reputation does not lie. Graduates receive a degree that already puts them ahead in the industry.  Most of all, the quality of flight training is top of the line. Students start their flight training in a Cirrus SR-20 which is a single engine, 200hp, 4-seat plane. It has a glass cockpit, which means there are not traditional steam gauges; there are two screens that give you more information than you typically need to know. The automation in the plane is incredible, autopilot can be used almost the whole flight although that is rarely allowed for training purposes. 

The four seasons of Michigan are challenging in more ways than most schools. One of the first things you learn is determining the weather and if today is a good day or a bad day for a flight lesson. You don’t get to experience flying in the snow and icy conditions in Arizona, Texas, or California. You rarely get to shoot an instrument approach coming out of the clouds 500ft above the ground. Here, runways are almost always covered in snow during the winter, and flying in these conditions challenges students in more ways than other schools can offer. People know about Western Michigan University Aviation. The College of Aviation has built a tremendous name in the past 75 years and hopes to make that name even stronger in the next 75.

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Travel is the Only Thing You Can Buy That Makes You Richer

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Travel is the Only Thing You Can Buy That Makes You Richer
James Cody Fox
Aviation Management and Operations Student-2014 

College is an experience that you only get to do once. It’s an investment in yourself and is precious time that should not be wasted. This is an opportunity to try new things, to ask questions, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Studying abroad is an adventure that will become a strong asset to your education, but you will also benefit in your personal life. Your life as you know it will change. How you think, how you feel, how you live... everything is different after you get a big dose of the world. Smells are different. Sights are different. Sounds are different. You come back a new person with a whole new view of the world. It may seem challenging to some, after you’re done, you’ll look back and thank yourself.

Throughout my college career, many of my peers shared with me that they would love to go abroad, but they would cling to excuses like, “It’s not part of my major,” or, “It’s too expensive.” On the contrary, many schools abroad actually cost less or equal to tuition in the US. There are also countless amounts of scholarships, grants, and financial aid available for students who wish to study abroad. Be flexible. Don’t let something like your curriculum stand between you and the experience of a lifetime.

My situation was very similar to the one above. I am an Aviation Management and Operations student, so the options to study abroad within my program were somewhat limited (or so I thought). The College of Aviation has a relationship with a school in Melbourne, Australia, but I wanted to study abroad in Europe. I wasn’t sure how to get there, but one thing I knew I wanted to do was learn another language. During my second semester of my freshman year, I decided to take a semester of French to see if I liked it. Some students feel limited by the courses they are required to take for their bachelor’s degree, but college is a time to explore different disciplines that you always found interesting but never knew much about. It is a time to take advantage of the little time you are given to learn new things and build your mind in hopes of becoming a well-rounded member of the global workforce.

During my first semester of French, I felt extremely challenged. Our class met four times per week, and every night we were required to go home and learn a bunch of new grammar and vocabulary before the following class. It was extremely tiring, but sticking with French is now one of my greatest accomplishments. At the end of the semester, I realized how rewarding learning a new language could be, and I decided to continue learning French.

Two semesters later, I met an international student in one of my aviation classes who had just moved to Kalamazoo from Africa. I told him I was learning French, and he invited me to come and meet some of his friends who were studying abroad from Paris, France. Although the French department at WMU has an agreement with a school in Besançon, France, these students became some of my closest friends and they encouraged me to study in Paris instead. I began investigating and soon after discovered that you could study abroad anywhere you wanted as long as you could get the courses approved prior to leaving. The process was simple, and before I knew it, I was enrolled in classes at the Catholic Institute of Paris for Spring 2013.

While in Paris, I realized that France plays a huge role in aviation development and manufacturing, as well as air travel. I was also able to meet people from all corners of the world who loved aviation as much as I did. I attended the Paris airshow, and I even took a tour of Airbus in Toulouse, France. Once I returned to the US, my desire to travel and see the world only grew. I ended up completing my French minor, and after graduation, I will be returning to Paris to continue my studies in a 12-month MBA program at the International School of Management.  Living abroad not only gives you a global network and a global perspective (which is extremely useful in the global transport industry), but it also teaches you self-confidence. There is something indescribably rewarding about being surrounded by a completely different environment, separated from your own culture. You learn to think in a completely different way, and it teaches you to work with many different types of people. All in all, just because you can find a million excuses not to study abroad, just remember that this may be a once in a lifetime chance to really explore the world and transform yourself into a global citizen. After all, “travel is truly the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.”

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"Charlie Victor Romeo" - A Must See for Every Aviation Professional

Western Michigan University - College of Aviation

Education is an art.  When done correctly, the educator is often able to synthesize understanding of a complex concept like a chef creates a confectionary delicacy.  However, very often it is disguised in assessments, pencil and paper tests, and data.  When this happens, the ability to approach a complex subject is lost.  The learner is reduced to a passive participant, digesting the material using only one sensory input. 

CVR Poster Nowhere else is this more evident than in the reports of airline emergencies.  More often than not, the transcripts of these events are recorded and documented.  The text of the crew, their actions, the response of the aircraft, all of these written in black and white to be analyzed and interpreted for years.  While the data is important, there is something lost: the voices of the individuals.  Much like certain educational subjects, these aviation events are anything but simple.  Instead, they are incredibly complex requiring a unique approach to their teaching.  Most of the times, these events are read.  However, through the readings, we lose the nuances and interactions between the crew; we fail to see the emotions, the conflict, grief, anger and despair.  The film Charlie Victor Romeo brings these incidents to life, allowing the viewer an intimate look into the situations that lead to these events; providing an incredible and unique educational opportunity.  

Using the art of theater, Charlie Victor Romeo projects the human element to these often tragic emergencies.  As a result, the film is a must see for everyone involved in aviation.  At Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation, students learn about many of the incidents portrayed in the film.  The students read and discuss the emergencies: what occurred, how the crew handled the situation, what they did well, what they could do better.  What the text lacks, Charlie Victor Romeo brings to life.  

As is true of any theatrical representation, the actors are able to showcase the hidden parts of the transcripts.  The dialogue of the actors is derived entirely from the “black box” transcripts of each of the six aviation emergencies highlighted in the movie.  However, missing from the transcripts is the perspiration, angst, and frustration the actors demonstrate through each of the events.  The ability to watch a person go through the stress of these situations adds another dimension to any collegiate or professional discussion.  

The use of this film as part of any academic discussion regarding these aviation emergencies should be highly considered.  Using the film in conjunction with the actual transcripts allows the educator to blend the art with the science.  Melding the faceless black and white text with the gamut of emotions projected by the actor, a student begins to see the events in a different light.  They are able to witness the dedication of the crew, their ability to fight through the situation, and sometimes their inability to perceive the situation unfolding in front of them.  While the transcripts lack the intensity of a John Grisham novel, the actors are able to infer the gut-wrenching emotion felt by the various crew members represented.  Ultimately, what the movie brings to light is the human element.  

To highlight the benefit of using the film Charlie Victor Romeo in order to educate future aviation professionals about past aviation incidents, all one must do is think about Shakespeare.  Many a college freshmen has sat through a class on Shakespeare: reading and discussing the Bard of Avon’s work.  Students would read, decipher and write about the various sonnets and plays, but they rarely connected to them since the text always lacked a certain “pizazz.”  The wonder of Shakespeare required a student to sit in an auditorium and watch “Macbeth” come to life.  The interpretation and presentation of the actors filled in the missing components.  All of which led to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the original tale.  The production added nothing to Shakespeare’s words; however, the work of the actors provided that “little bit” which helped to generate a more a complete understanding of the source material.  The actors in Charlie Victor Romeo provide the same opportunity for those wishing to understand the nuances in the explored aviation emergencies.  

The ability to immerse a student into a subject is paramount to learning.  Many times, educators have found that to educate, one must also entertain.  Marshall McLuhan summed it up when he stated, “It’s misleading to suppose there’s any basic difference between education and entertainment.”  By combining the educational value of analyzing these aviation emergencies with the entertainment medium presented through the art of film, students are able to submerse themselves fully in the examination of these events.  Hopefully, through careful examination, the experiences of the past will help to prevent similar events in the future.    

Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation was proud to be the fourth professional screening of the film Charlie Victor Romeo.  Students, faculty, staff and the public were invited to the screenings that took place on April 9 and 10, 2014, at the Alamo Drafthouse in Kalamazoo, Mich.

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Aviation Outlook Day 2014 - April 4, 2014

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Late Additions:

  • L-3 Communications
  • Continental Motors Inc.
Endeavor Air CRJ

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Grounded in Aviation - Changing Majors by Changing Direction

Western Michigan University - College of Aviation

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wis, aviation mecca was only an hour and a half away. During my sophomore year of high school, I took my first “introductory flight” with EAA Young Eagles. I immediately knew I had been bitten by the aviation ‘bug.’ Since that day, I totally focused on the notion of being a commercial pilot. In my eyes, there wasn’t anything like it: having the luxury of always flying, strutting with those stripes on my shoulders, enjoying the four day layovers in exotic places and heading home to enjoy time off for another week before starting a trip again. As I thought about this day in and day out, I said to myself, “This really isn’t a job!”Gabe Langley by Airplane

Throughout high school, I began to set my eyes on Western Michigan University and their nationally recognized aviation program. I decided to enroll at WMU and double major in aviation flight science and aviation management and operations. Soon after I arrived, I began flying in the state of art Cirrus SR-20. The initial feeling of flying such a beautiful piece of equipment was truly amazing and very satisfying. I kept progressing through my training, but as I moved forward, I felt unfilled. Yes, I love planes and airports, but did I enjoy constantly flying and being at the controls?

Over the course of my first semester, my heart wasn’t fully devoted to being part of a professional pilot environment.  Many times I denied this feeling and ignored the fact telling myself, “This can’t be. I want to be an airline pilot! I’ll just pass the training and that’ll be it. It will all be different once I’m done with the training.” I felt like I was just going through the motions with my training, not truly investing myself. Although it was hard to think about and process, I was soon second guessing my career choice and questioning if I really wanted to pursue being a professional pilot. “Do I really want to do this?”

By the end of the semester, I came to a conclusion: drop flight training and the aviation flight science degree. Although I was no longer flying, aviation was still in my blood, and it needed to be addressed. I have always been interested in the management side of things, whether at an airport or an airline. Being part of a sales or management team of an airline/airport, as well as possibly being involved in the administrative operations at an airport, really excited me. Although I chose not to continue the path into a flight career, I knew one thing – be true to yourself and put your best foot forward.

With flying (or anything), you don’t know the reality of something until you try it out. Yes, I wanted to be an airline pilot. I saw the glamorous life of the career, but after sampling a taste and doing some more research, I realized that it was not my ‘cup of tea.’ As I thought about airport management and administration, and the many opportunities and challenges those careers brought, I soon realized it wouldn’t be a huge career change after all. Aviation business and management jobs typically offer extensive travel benefits, while many also enjoy the same benefits of an airline pilot. The only difference being, I won’t be controlling the aircraft in the cockpit.

Writing this today, I am focusing my studies towards the aviation management and operations major, while adding on a communication broadcasting minor. College is all about discovering and learning who you are. Part of that is also about making decisions. As a college student, you make short term and long term decisions every day. Part of the learning process is to explore these decisions and accept the changes they often bring.

Whether you grow up wanting to be a doctor, lawyer, or professional pilot, it is important to realize that things change. Yes, it will initially be hard to stray away from something you have focused on for a long time, but realize things happen for a reason. Be confident in your growth and decisions, don’t hesitate putting your all into what you want to do. I still love aviation and can never get enough. Losing myself for days in the miraculous events at EAA (and other airshows), spotting my favorite planes at many airports and everything in between, brings nothing but pure joy to my face.

Gabriel S. Langley
Western Michigan University
College of Aviation
Aviation Management and Operations 

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PSA Airlines Announces Regional Airline Growth

Western Michigan University - College of Aviation


DAYTON, OhioFollowing the closure of the merger between US Airways and American Airlines into American Airlines Group Inc., the new American Airlines today announced a Large Regional Jet order, 30 of which will be flown by Dayton-based PSA Airlines beginning next summer.  PSA is a  wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines Group which is now the largest airline in the world.  Today’s announcement will allow PSA, whose headquarters, training and primary maintenance facility is located at the Dayton Airport, an  opportunity to continue to expand their employee base with the industry’s best professionals.
To prepare for the delivery of these aircraft, PSA will immediately begin hiring 400 additional pilots, 400 flight attendants, 100 maintenance-related personnel, and various other support positions to manage the rapid growth of the airline, resulting in an expansion from 1100 employees to upwards of 2000.
PSA’s growth announcement comes as a part of American Airlines Group Inc. announcement today that American Airlines Inc.:
 “…has firm orders for 30 Bombardier CRJ900 NextGen aircraft, with options for up to 40 more... and the firm order of CRJ900 NextGen aircraft will be operated on behalf of American by PSA Airlines, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of US Airways. American expects to begin taking delivery of the CRJ900s in the second quarter of 2014.
 'We are looking forward to welcoming these new planes into the fleet next year,' continued Hashimoto.  “PSA’s strong economics make them a perfect fit for the new aircraft.'”
For more information on the new American’s fleet plans, visit aa.com/newplanes.
“We are very excited about this growth opportunity which will bring new employment to the Dayton area which has supported us for the past twenty-five years,” said PSA President Keith D. Houk. 

With flight crew bases in Charlotte, Knoxville, and Dayton, along with maintenance in Charlotte, Dayton, and Akron, PSA’s growth will affect all of these areas as well as additional locations to be determined at a later date.
 See American Airlines Group Inc.’s Jet Purchase announcement in its entirety here.

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Learning to Fly in a Cirrus - An Aviation Student's Perspective

Western Michigan University - College of Aviation

The first time I stepped into the cockpit of the Cirrus SR 20, I was a bit intimidated.  Where I was accustomed to seeing the familiar six-pack instrument cluster, two flat-paneled screens occupied the space.  The area where my radio knobs should have been was now a full keyboard.  It felt as though I hopped into the cockpit of a spaceship, not an aircraft.  The past decade has been a remarkable time for aviation with the implementation of new aircraft technologies maximizing performance and utility, as well as ease of operation.

When people think of an aircraft cockpit, they envision two things.  The first is that of a typical airliner – one that you may have briefly seen while walking in or out of a commercial flight.  This version has what seems like thousands of switches, dials, gauges, levers, buttons, knobs, handles, needles, etc.  The vision leaves you amazed at the skill required to operate all of that machinery but wondering how pilots know what they are doing.  The other vision is usually the instrumentation of an old-style aircraft; with fewer instruments than a car, a stick, and a throttle.  

These two cockpits have dominated the aircraft environment since the beginning of aviation, but this has changed with the advent of technologically advanced aircraft.  Designers and engineers have started to place greater importance on the efficiency, ergonomics, and safety of each flight, beginning with the aircraft.  The Cirrus SR20 is a prime example of the effective implementation of these concepts, and showcases the superb performance generated from these new technologies. 

One of the most remarkable features of the Cirrus SR20 is the use of composite materials.  Until recently, aircraft structures were made two ways.  The first method involved constructing a metal or wood frame, then stretching glue-covered fabric over the body.  The second method involved creating an Cirrus Aircraftaluminum airframe by bending and twisting metal into the shape of the plane.  However, in the past decade, engineers discovered a better method.  By combining different materials of various strengths, they are able to make a new substance, called composites, which are much stronger and lighter than conventional materials.  These composite materials are advantageous to aircraft designers because they have a high strength to weight ratio, and are much easier to form into aerodynamically efficient shapes.  The benefit: aircraft are now lighter, faster, and overall more efficient.  The Cirrus SR20, similar to many recreational boats, is comprised primarily of fiberglass, and provides students a training aircraft with outstanding performance.

 Another cutting edge technology utilized in the Cirrus SR20 is an advanced avionics suite, the Avidyne Integra Release 9.  Instead of the typical analog instrument panel found in most small aircraft, the Cirrus SR2Avidyne R90 employs a glass panel, which in simpler terms is a computer monitor which displays all flight information.  The gauges have been replaced by two screens, the primary flight display, and the multi-function display.  These screens depict things like flight, navigation, systems information, traffic and terrain alerts using the Skywatch Collision Avoidance System, airport information, and flight plans.  In addition, the glass panel is also linked to a Flight Management System, similar to the system used by most airlines.  This system allows pilots to quickly input information for the flight using a full QWERTY keyboard.  Western Michigan University is one of the two collegiate aviation programs in the nation to offer this tool.  The combination of these new technologies increases pilot situational awareness and creates a user-friendly environment for the crew.

Personally, I was a bit skeptical of training in the Cirrus SR20 coming into Western Michigan University as a flight student. As most of my friends would agree, I generally am not the biggest fan of new technology.  I still have a flip-phone, my car has manual everything, I still use an atlas, and the idea of an aircraft being smarter than me was a bit daunting.  However, after several flights, I realized why everyone is raving about these new, advanced aircraft tools.  I was quite impressed at how easy the “computer” was to operate, and just how much more confident and aware I was during my training.  Also, since the beginning of my training, I have seen the inside of several airliner and corporate cockpits; each time I was surprised at how similar they are to the Avidyne R9 and Cirrus SR20.  This dual package of the Cirrus SR20 with the R9 provides students an opportunity to train on equipment that is very similar to the type used by most of the companies they will be working for in the future.

Andrew Marvin
Aviation Flight Science
Western Michigan University
College of Aviation

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How your Aviation Career is like going to Graduate School.

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The cost of flight training is expensive, especially at programs that have advanced technologies in their trainers and simulation equipment. And the starting salaries for pilots entering the aviation industry as first officers are criminally low. So what would make some wide-eyed youngster even enter this field? Their passion and their perspective, the idea that they could not imagine themselves doing anything other than flying, should be the answer, but often times the answer is for the money, or for the travel benefits. This industry will self-regulate those that are in it for the love and perspective it brings, and those that are in it for the money and travel because the money and travel don’t come early or easy. But even those that are in it, for what I would call the right reasons, can lose their perspective and find their passion diminished when the harsh reality of this industry hits.

They are coming into the repayment of large amounts of loans by getting a position where they will work more and get paid less than what they may have been doing while in college. For some, they may have made more money as flight instructors than they will their first year as a first officer of a regional carrier. Making it difficult to repay their loans and have enough left to live. Causing people to rethink their career choice, rethink if they have made a mistake in following their passion and rethink how they look at their career choice. Here, is where I would propose a perspective shift.

The regional carriers are not merely your first job in to the aviation industry the regional carriers are your graduate school degree.

Everyone knows that on the job training is some of the most valuable education that anyone can receive. How you handle yourself professionally and personally during everything from in-flight emergencies to your relationship with your company will mold you in to a better and better pilot as you move through the industry. This additional, and wildly valuable, education is like graduate school.

Where other students plan from the start that they will get a bachelor’s degree in business and then move on to graduate school to complete an MBA, flight students have a tendency to look at their bachelor’s degree as their terminal degree. And technically speaking they are right, most don’t get a masters or PhD, it’s not needed – instead they strive for things like ATP, and total hours flown to get advancement in their careers.

But if flight students looked at their regional job as graduate school, their perspective would be one of continuing education and getting minimally paid to do it, rather than the somewhat large let down felt by getting that first job and realizing you can’t get a new car with that first paycheck.

An article in 2012 in Forbes magazine1 looked at the question of whether grad school was still worth the money. It said that the average total tuition for a top 20 business school in 2011-2012 was $102,355 for an MBA. But a full cost analysis must also take in to consideration the lost wages of a student that goes back to school full time instead of being in the work force, which equates to approximately $44,442 per year. MBA programs (going full time) are typically two year programs so lost wages are $88,884. Added to the tuition for the degree it costs $191,239 for a student to get their MBA. On the flip side the article sites that people holding MBA’s typically make between $5 and $8 million over the course of a 40 year working career. Meaning they have spent about 4% of their lifetime wages on the investment of educating themselves.

Using this same logic for pilots, tuition and fees at WMU are $105,500 the lifetime earning potential of a pilot is approximately $4.5 million (assuming movement every 7 years or so from FO to Capt, and on to the major airlines). Meaning they will have spent about 2% of their lifetime wages on the investment of educating themselves.

In this context, comparing the first airline job to graduate school isn’t that difficult, and a better return on investment. If students would have the mindset that their bachelor’s degree is not their terminal degree, and look at that first airline job as the investment in the education of themselves at a graduate level, they may be able to maintain their passion for flying and perspective on the industry. 


O’Connor, S. (2012). Grad school: Still worth the money? Forbes. Retrieved at: www.forbes.com/sites/shawnoconnor/2012/04/05/grad-school-still-worth-the-money/print/

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Jet Equivalency Training (JET) at Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University - College of Aviation

 WMU is committed to providing its students with an education that is second to none and will prepare them for a successful career in aviation.  One of its most effective courses for ensuring a successful transition is the Jet Equivalency Training (JET) course. The following attest to the course’s success in readying WMU flight students for the rigors of training at a regional airline.


“To this day, I feel that the JET course was an excellent opportunity to get some experience in a multi-crew environment and prepared me well for the airlines.  Having covered the systems in computer based training I was a step ahead of the game when it came to CRJ ground school (more of an in-depth review than brand new information).  While it's been almost 2 years since I went through the course, I still pull on some of the knowledge you gave me and I hope others can have the same experience.  I'd be more than happy to recommend anyone to SkyWest that's been through the JET course.  They love the JET course and are pleased with the results!”  Michael Grime, Skywest FO and JET course alumni


“Well, I survived my first year on the line and still loving it.  I have to say, it's a lot of fun.  I have flown a lot of approaching down to mins, landed on snow covered runways in snowstorms, and getting good at 30+ knot crosswind landings!  It's been a brutal winter!!  No doubt that this is much easier after going through the JET course.” Tony Yaskoweak, American Eagle FO and JET course alumni


“I… became a First Officer in the Embraer 135/140/145 for American Eagle based out of Chicago.  During the interview in December, Eagle was glad to hear I had the JET course and said "the JET course at WMU has proved successful with all of the WMU students and instructors we pick up."  I had 740 hours and 56 multi, but they didn't care, they just want the WMU guys with the JET course.  I believe there are now 8 or 9 WMU people at eagle that have done the JET course in the past few months.  Eagle can't get enough of WMU people.  Continue on with your hard work and airlines will continue to pick up JET graduates.”  Chris Murray, American Eagle FO and JET course alumni


What specifically is the JET course?  The JET course is a 6 credit elective (AVS 4300) that readies students for new hire training with a regional airline.  The course consists of the following three phases:

  • Computer Based Training (CBT) – 2 weeks of self-study prior to starting classes.  Instruction consists of 25 modules of web based CRJ-200 systems training. 
  • Academics – 5 days of instruction in the classroom.  Topics include CRJ-200 flight crew normal, abnormal, and emergency procedures, and a review of aircraft systems.
  • Simulation – 10 days of flight instruction in a CRJ-200 flight training device (FTD).  Each day consists of a 1½ hour pre brief, 4 hours of FTD instruction, and a 1 hour post brief.  The time in the FTD is equally divided between pilot flying and pilot not flying duties.  Scenarios begin with basic handling and are performed in a two-crew environment.  As proficiency grows, students learn to contend with abnormal and emergency situations.  After students experience operations in a variety of conditions, they explore flight crew use of automation and realistic airline operations.  The phase culminates with an airline style checkride.


To simulate the “fire hose” nature of regional airline training, the JET course is usually conducted Monday through Friday until all lessons are complete.  Therefore, the course can be completed in as little as 3 weeks.  Due to student schedules and academic commitments, the course can be scheduled on a less hectic basis, but still should be conducted for at least three days a week to maintain its intensity.


WMU has offered airline oriented instruction since 2000 and has worked with numerous airlines to get the instruction within the JET course just right.  The list of airlines that have worked with WMU in the past includes:

  • Air Wisconsin Airlines.
  • American Eagle Airlines.
  • Atlantic Southeast Airlines.
  • British Airways.
  • Comair Airlines.
  • Delta Air Lines.
  • Emirates Airlines.
  • ExpressJet Airlines.
  • Messaba Airlines.
  • Pinnacle Airlines.


Who can take the JET course?  WMU flight program students who meet the following prerequisites can take the JET course:

  • AVS 3560: Professional Flight IV Lab.
  • AVS 4110: Airline Flight Operations.
  • AVS 4120: Line Oriented Flight Crew Simulation.

The following are also required:

  • Commercial Pilot license with Instrument and Multi-Engine ratings.
  • A Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) license is not necessarily required.


Why should students take the JET course?  The best reason is because it works.  In the past, six regional airlines agreed to lower their job interview flight hour requirements for JET course graduates.  The upcoming enactment of aviation legislation will mandate specific flight hour minimums for first officers which will nullify these agreements.  However, the regionals still express their support for the course.  For example, ExpressJet Airline, the world's largest regional airline, worked with WMU to establish a Pilot Pathway Program.  If students pass a rigorous screening process and get accepted into this program, they will be guaranteed jobs as first officers with ExpressJet and, later on, interviews with Delta Air Lines. Part of the screening process for the program is the JET course.


Who teaches the JET course?  The primary instructor for the JET course is Dennis McFall.  He has over 34 years of aviation experience which includes working in a training center transitioning ab initio flight students to jet transport aircraft.  Dennis has been with WMU since 2000 and was instrumental in establishing the university’s airline transition training.




(269) 964-5680



Where can one find more information about the JET course?  For more information, one can contact Dennis McFall.  He would be happy to provide in-depth information and answer any questions.  Information can also be obtained at:







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