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WSU Tech To Offer Flight Program Starting In August

Katelynn McIlwain

WSU Tech will offer a flight program beginning next month, the first of its kind in the city.

Wichita's first collegiate pilot program takes off this fall now that WSU Tech has opened enrollment for its two-year flight training program.

The program will prepare up to 15 students for several pilot careers, including commercial airlines, business aviation and cargo. Classes begin in August at the National Center for Aviation Training.

Graduates of the program will earn an associate degree and certification as a Federal Aviation Administration pilot. This will be the second state-sponsored flight school in the state, along with one at Kansas State's Salina campus.

WSU Tech President Sheree Utash said the school began developing a flight program in the past three years. Until now, it's prepared students for "on-the-ground" work such as manufacturing and repair.

"When we were working on (the National Center for Aviation Training) 15 years ago and really developing and designing what this would be, one of the things that was always in the back of my mind was a flight program," Utash said. "It really completes the ecosystem of aviation in the Air Capital of the World."

Textron Aviation is helping the program take flight by providing a custom-branded Cessna Skyhawk 172, where students can begin completing their required minimum of 235 flight hours. Textron has provided these planes to flight schools across the country as a part of its Top Hawk program, which started in 2015.

Textron Aviation President and CEO Ron Draper said it's exciting to see the Skyhawk 172, built in Kansas, help the next generation of Wichita pilots.

"Almost every pilot out there in the world can trace their heritage back to learning to fly in a 172," Draper said. "It's extra special for us because this is our hometown. … This airplane's built by Kansans, right here in Kansas, as all aircraft are, and we're proud of that."

Draper said the need for a new generation of pilots is more urgent as thousands of pilots in their 50s and 60s begin retiring in the next decade. Boeing estimates that between 2020 and 2039, there will be a demand for about 208,000 more pilots in the United States.

Before the pandemic, Future and Active Pilot Advisors estimated that more than 2,000 airline pilots would retire in 2020, and it estimates that number will increase to 3,100 retiring annually.

Draper said that having a flight school at WSU Tech will help young Wichitans see opportunity in their own backyard.

WSU Tech's flight program will cost each student about $82,000, with required flight hours making up a majority of the bill. WSU faculty will provide instruction in the classroom, while instructors from Ortega Aviation will help students in the air.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that K-State has a waitlist for its flight school. The university says it does not.

Katelynn McIlwain is KMUW's Korva Coleman Diversity in Journalism intern. She will be a senior this fall at the University of Missouri.