Flight school uses Web to become ‘satellite campus’

 - May 8, 2008, 5:56 AM

Phoenix-based Westwind School of Aeronautics has teamed with SkyWest Airlines and Utah Valley State College (UVSC) in a program under which ab initio flight students can gain two- or four-year degrees online via the Internet while earning a commercial pilot and CFII certificates and instrument and multi-engine ratings, and a guaranteed SkyWest job interview.

Westwind School of Aeronautics, colocated with Westwind Aviation at Deer Valley Airport in northwest Phoenix, is one of a half-dozen UVSC computer-linked aviation “satellite campuses” and the only one in Arizona. To serve up to 100 full-time students at a time in the concentrated training program, the school has more than doubled its available space in a newly constructed hangar, office and learning center building. The 36,000-sq-ft, $3 million structure was formally dedicated April 27 with an open house featuring a half-dozen warbirds including a B-17 and a B-24 from the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation. The two-story hangar already houses several corporate aircraft, including PGA touring pro Phil Mickelson’s Gulfstream II. To keep the school’s 40 training aircraft flying, Westwind Aviation’s avionics shop has been moved into the new structure.

After 14 months, students in the UVSC/ SkyWest global aviation degree program will have the minimum 750 hr TT, including 100 hr multi-engine, required for hiring by SkyWest. The curriculum is specifically tailored to SkyWest’s operating procedures in both flight and simulator training. Using the airline’s standardized CRM and LOFT (line-oriented flight training) procedures, senior Westwind instructors designated by SkyWest as check pilots give stage checks.

Simulator work is likewise tailored to SkyWest’s ways. Students fly actual complete SkyWest trips, and have begun making them in a new AST Turbine Hawk simulator complete with Beech 1900 flight characteristics presented in a four-screen, wraparound view with voice recognition for realistic pilot-ATC interaction. Approximately 65 of the required 100 multi-engine hours are logged in the simulators, with the remainder in Westwind’s Piper Seminoles.

Global aviation degree program students spend eight hours, five to six days a week, flying and studying at Westwind’s Deer Valley site. Because they send in their work from there to the UVSC main campus in Orem, Utah, students can complete requirements for two-year associate of science or associate of applied science degrees in eight to 12 months at a cost of approximately $4,000 for the academic portion of the program. A bachelor’s degree in aviation science can be completed in about two years for $8,000, according to Westwind literature.

The Phoenix flight school quotes a price of $32,899 for a beginning zero-time student to complete the professional pilot training course and $27,720 for those who already have a private pilot certificate. However, participants in the global aviation degree program are eligible for federal financial aid and low-interest college loans of up to $25,000 per year, repayable over 15 to 20 years beginning six months after graduation.

Upon winning their requisite certificates and ratings, and accumulating approximately 310 flight hours, Westwind students have the opportunity to log the rest of their required time as full-time flight instructors for the school. Jerry Dilk, the school’s director, said the newly minted CFIs will teach at least 100 hr a month in aircraft and simulators, earning $14 per hour.

Dilk said that the expansion will allow Westwind School of Aeronautics to process 120 professional flight students this year, including participants in the UVSC/SkyWest program and those destined for other regional airlines. As of mid-July, 20 students were enrolled in the UVSC/SkyWest program. He noted that some Westwind graduates are first officers with Continental Express, American Eagle, Mesa, Mesaba, Trans States and America West Express, as well as others. Recently hired Westwind graduates based in the Phoenix area are being brought back to the school as simulator instructors, Dilk added.

He said that while the school has doubled its enrollment over the past year, it is designed for a maximum of 130 full-time professional students. “Flight schools start failing when they grow and their customer service goes downhill. If a flight school gets too large, it overloads the airport, and the flight school can’t change the size of the practice area,” Dilk observed. He said a flight school that becomes too large risks turning students into numbers rather than individuals.

Dilk noted that about 80 percent of the school’s current flight students are U.S. citizens, reflecting a sharp decline in the number from Europe as a result of the JAA’s practice, begun about two years ago, of not recognizing many pilot credentials earned in the U.S. Westwind School of Aeronautics currently employs about 40 CFIs. The school and Westwind Aviation are owned by Ron Harrer Sr. Westwind Aviation owns and maintains the aircraft and leases them to the training operation.