The college is partnering with Choice Aviation of Cody, based in the old Yellowstone Regional Airport terminal building, to offer the two-year degree. Successful students will earn a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating as well as ratings in commercial single-engine, multi-engine and turbine aircraft and an instrument rating, said Todd Simmons, Choice Aviation managing partner.
Simmons said the Federal Aeronautics Administration normally requires pilots to have 1,500 flight hours before they qualify to become commercial airline pilots. But, because of the depth of this program, it qualifies for FAA part 141, which reduces the flight hours required to a total of 500 flight hours.
Students who complete the NWC aeronautic degree program will have approximately 250 flying hours toward the required 500 flight hours they will need to become commercial airplane pilots.
Graduating students also will have an associate degree of their choice through NWC.
Simmons said an increasing demand for trained pilots prompted him to contact Northwest College about establishing the program.
This will be the only aeronautics training program qualifying for Part 141 in the Big Horn Basin, and much of the region as well. To qualify for Part 141, the FAA must certify both ground and flight training as an approved method, he said.
“They take quite a bit of effort, both in time and jumping through hoops of proving yourself worth or accredited to receive this recognition from the FAA,” he said. “When you put an accredited institution like Northwest College and an accredited flight school together, you have a formula for meeting requirements to lower that minimum and make pilots more marketable.”
Ronda Peer, NWC interim vice president for academic affairs, said Simmons approached college administrators with the proposal more than a year ago.
“He had done a bunch of research on the need for pilots and convinced us it would be a good program,” he said. “We have been exploring it for about a year and working out the details.”
As envisioned, the program will serve between 15 and 30 students each year, she said.
Peer said it is important that students get their associate degrees while attending NWC, as most airlines are hiring pilots with bachelor’s degrees as a minimum.
“In most cases, they can get their degree in anything they like, but they will have to have their commercial air license,” she said.
They can take courses at the Powell campus, the Cody center or online. Flight training will take place at Choice Aviation in Cody.
Northwest College will prepare students in the program for transfer to four-year institutions offering bachelor’s degrees in similar programs. In this region, they include Rocky Mountain College in Billings, the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D., and Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.
Detail work on the program is done, Peer said. From there, the proposal must gain approval from the NWC Curriculum Committee and the NWC Board of Trustees. Once the board approves it, the program proposal goes for statewide approval by the college academic vice president group, the college presidents and finally, the Wyoming Community College Commission.
“It is a very long process,” she said. “We are hoping that we can have it completed in order to begin classes in 2012.”
Peer said she gets about one call each week inquiring about the new program.
“I think people are kind of anxious for us to get this off the ground,” she said.
Simmons said Choice Aviation already offers flight training, but the aeronautics program will offer training options that are not available now.
A more typical method of becoming a pilot is to train at a flight school under FAA Part 61, he said. Those students also graduate with about 250 flight hours, but they need another 1,250 to qualify as commercial airline pilots.
That leads to a difficult period of time when they need flight hours, but have a difficult time obtaining them, he said.
“There’s no joke in the T-shirts new pilots typically wear, ‘Will Fly for Food.’”
The Big Horn Basin provides student pilots many different conditions and challenges, and helps prepare them for their flying careers, Simmons said.
“We have flat prairies, wind, temperature variations, mountains, thunderstorms, snow and ice,” he said. “We experience here in the Big Horn Basin most all phenomenons that pilots may face. We’re fortunate to have such a comprehensive training environment.
“There’s a joke, ‘If you can fly in Cody, Wyo., you can fly anywhere,’” he said. “There’s a lot of truth to that.”
By partnering with Northwest College, graduating students will have a “quality academic experience and the required and appropriate ratings and certificates and be able to find their way through this complex industry and help fill a void in this industry that is expanding every day,” he said.