TRAVERSE CITY — Another Cessna Skyhawk soon will be a part of the aviation fleet at Northwestern Michigan College.
The new airplane will join a fleet of 15 aircraft — seven of which are Skyhawks — that are used in NMC’s aviation flight program, said Alex Bloye, director of aviation.
The NMC Board of Trustees approved the purchase Monday, giving Bloye the leeway to spend up to $375,000 on a 2008 or newer Skyhawk. The aircraft will be funded from the aviation capital reserve fund, which has a balance of $1.02 million.
“The way the market is right now I’m asking for the ability to go shop,” Bloye said.
But it may take a while to actually find one, as the aircraft is currently a hot commodity. That’s because it is the No. 1 training aircraft in the world, Bloye said. It has an excellent safety record, instructors trust it and the model has been around for generations, he said.
“It’s a reliable aircraft. It’s a safe aircraft and it’s very forgiving. It’s a really easy aircraft to learn how to fly.”
In addition to the Skyhawks, NMC’s program includes two Piper Arrows, a more complex aircraft that has been required by the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial pilot and flight instructor certification testing.
The FAA in April removed that requirement, Bloye said.
“This change in requirements affects every flight program in the country,” he said, which is another reason the demand for the sturdy single-engine aircraft has grown exponentially.
So has the need for pilots, as a global pilot shortage has driven up the demand on aviation programs. Another aircraft would allow for more students in the NMC program, Bloye said.
The shortage has been brought on by more business and personal travel combined with changes a few years ago that increased requirements for becoming a commercial pilot, Bloye said. There has also been an increase in retirements related to the new FAA mandatory retirement age of 65.
“All of these things have created a supply and demand situation,” he said.
The demand has also driven up the pay a pilot can expect to get, almost tripling over the last few years, Bloye said.
Starting pay for a first officer is $65,000, he said, with sign-on bonuses of up to $50,000. Pilots can also expect to upgrade to captain in as little as 36 months, he said.
There are about 100 students in NMC’s associate’s degree pilot program in any given semester, Bloye said.
“When they graduate they are ready for their first career as a pilot,” he said, typically as a first officer for a regional airline. Many stay on as instructors at NMC so they can build up their flight hours while earning a bachelor’s degree.
Like 20-year-old Tori Gann, who is working on her bachelor’s in business administration with a focus on aviation from Davenport University, which has a transfer partnership with NMC.
Gann has wanted to be a pilot since high school.
“I really like a diverse work environment,” she said. “I really like being outside ... I just really love flying.”
Gann’s goal is to fly for a corporation as a business aviation pilot. The Grand Rapids native said that as a pilot she won’t be bored.
“Aviation is something that keeps you on your toes,” Gann said.