BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Aviation students at Western Michigan University are flying high after moving into their new building following a two and a half year expansion and renovation.
The College of Aviation said the best part about the new building is that they now have a home for all of their students, increasing the space and updating technologies to align with the latest industry needs.
"We actually started teaching aviation back in 1939, so we're on our 82 or 83 years of aviation education here at the university," said WMU's College of Aviation Recruitment, Marketing and Outreach Manager Tom Thinnes.
Western Michigan University's College of Aviation is the ninth oldest in the country and the third largest.
It was 19 years in the making and two and a half years of planning and construction to make the building happen.
"This building was really designed. We have about 1,200 students in our aviation program. It was really designed that if we can balloon this up to 2,000 or 2,500 students that want to study aviation. It's built to equip that, and the demand in aviation just isn't on the pilot side," said Thinnes.
The building cost around $20 to $22 million and was paid for by the State of Michigan and Western Michigan University.
It accommodates all three of its majors including a professional pilot training program, aviation technical operations and aviation management operation.
"What a lot of people don't realize is that for every one pilot, there's five to seven people on the ground that have to do jobs in order for that pilot to take that airplane off," said Thinnes.
The building has improved functionality as well with increased classroom amounts from four to 11.
The school also added an aviation paint lab and flight simulator with the newest technology in the industry to make sure their students are career-ready upon graduation.
"That demand in aviation has taken over. We can't produce people fast enough, and if you look at all the aviation programs in the United States, even what we produce will only it will only generate enough people to properly meet half of the demand out there," said Thinnes.
Other news that came with the new building is the retirement of Captain Dave Powell, the Dean of the College of Aviation.
Captain Powell has been with the school for 19 years. His last day will be October 17.
The College of Aviation said they'll have an interim dean while they conduct a national search for a new one.