Qualified in the Cockpit

UVU Aviation is filling the need for pilots with efficiency and putting more women in the air

Photography by August Miller
Issue: Winter 2019, PG. 44

Many airline industry observers are anticipating an impending pilot shortage and the Utah Valley University aviation program is among those trying to make sure air travelers will always have a cockpit full of confident, well-trained professionals.
 
As they address this national problem, among the solutions UVU has taken on is to increase the number of female pilots, as well as looking at ways to make flying through the program just a little more efficient for students.
 
Aviation Department Chair Randy Johnson said the pilot shortage is due to many factors, not the least of which is deregulation.
 
“Yes, it’s absolutely real. It is severe and predicted to get a lot more severe, because of all the Vietnam-era military-trained airline pilots retiring, and deregulation,” he said. “Deregulation started in the early ‘80s. Everyone wanted to get in the business, airlines were making money and they were expanding worldwide, and therefore we currently have a pilot shortage. And not just a shortage of pilots, but mechanics and aviation technicians. So, the whole industry is expanding.”
 
With a desire by aviation schools — not just UVU — to “backfill that vacuum,” as Johnson puts it, safety has to remain at a high standard. UVU Aviation Program Manager Ryan Tanner agrees.
 
“We certainly aren’t going to cut any corners as far as training goes,” Tanner says. “While we try to streamline as much as we can, there’s no way we will risk the quality of our pilots or condense that down just so we can produce more of them.”
 
Tanner said UVU is looking at ways to expand the aviation program through entrance requirements and making sure the right candidates are selected, so those who begin the program can finish it. “We used to let more in and had more dropouts,” he says. “Now very few people drop out. In that way, we are improving the quality and the actual number of people who make it through.”

Photo by August Miller
 
Johnson says regardless of the numbers in the program, one standard remains: “We are not allowing anyone to graduate who we don’t feel would make a safe, well-educated pilot. If they don’t meet those standards, they won’t pass the courses.”
 
Johnson says both a four-year and a two-year degree are offered in aviation, but for “long-term viability in the industry” students ought to have a four-year degree.
 
“Could [a student] get through faster? Maybe, but one would still need the four-year degree,” he says. “Without a degree from an approved university, students need 1,500 hours of flight time. With a two-year degree, 1,250 flight hours, and with a baccalaureate degree the flight-hour requirement is reduced to 1,000 hours. So trying to get students through our program faster is not necessarily an advantage because they need that four-year degree. But we do get students through rather quickly. They usually complete flight training in five semesters. And we are trying to get that down to four semesters, but we need the simulators to help us to do that.”
 
He says UVU’s program could use more simulators, as well as a “different mix of airplanes” to continue to expand offerings to more students.
 
Tanner notes that students can “get a whole lot more done in an hour of simulation time than you can in a plane. You get a lot more approaches done in a simulator than you can in a plane. It’s more efficient. I always tell students to maximize the simulator time — use it to save money and time.”
 
Johnson says the UVU program is also looking to increase enrollment of female students to help fill the shortage of pilots. He said UVU Aviation “markets to that end.”
 
“We were recently asked by the Air Force to be one of the universities to take on the challenge of bringing in more underrepresented groups and help them get their private pilot certificate,” he said. “We are in the initial stages of that right now. We reach out to the local high schools to let them see what aviation is all about and maybe help them enter that industry.”

Photo by August Miller
 
UVU has a strong Women in Aviation (WIA) chapter. WIA is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the encouragement and advancement of women in all aviation career fields and interests. The current president at UVU, Marlena Cromwell, said she was not sure Utah Valley was the school for her until she found the club.
 
“It has given me the opportunity to meet many wonderful people and given me the encouragement and support that I needed to thrive in the aviation program. I love talking to people, so being able to go out to new places and meet young kids who are interested in aviation is immensely gratifying,” she says. “Flying at UVU has been so incredible. I love the casual yet professional atmosphere of our school. I truly feel as though the aviation department supports their students and want to see them succeed.”
 
Cromwell says she hopes to transition her training into aerial firefighting soon — “It is my dream to be able to fly air tankers with the U.S. Forest Service.” She says she enjoys encouraging women to try aviation, one of the highlights of her current WIA assignment. WIA participants often make pitches and presentations to female high school students.
 
“I think that encouraging women to join the aviation field will greatly help with the pilot shortage,” Cromwell says. “While it is unlikely that we will ever reach a true equality in numbers, I am happy to support any other woman who wants to be a part of this industry. UVU can help address this issue by supporting future aviators and giving everyone equal access to the same training. The only way to fix the pilot shortage is to create more pilots, so if UVU was able to expand its program with a bigger fleet and more instructors, it would be able to allow access for more students.”
 
Joy Appelbaum, a senior at UVU, is a past president of the WIA chapter. She says she has made friends across the country through that association.
 
“The Women in Aviation chapter here has introduced me to some of my best friends, women that I am looking forward to flying with for years to come. I love being surrounded by strong and inspiring women,” she says. “One of my favorite things about this club is that I am able to share my passion to inspire other women to pursue their dreams.”
 
Appelbaum had been a Delta Air Lines gate agent for four years and a human resource specialist with the Utah Army National Guard for five years. Her hope is to become a commercial airline pilot, “to end up back with Delta Air Lines, become a captain, and eventually a line check airman for Delta.”
 
UVU has women in the airline management courses as well, not pilot training only. Johnson says with a different mix of aircraft and more simulators, UVU can do even more to meet students’ dreams of flying.
 
“We’re doing our part,” he says. “We have about 130 students who are flying right now, and we are trying to expand to about 225. We hope to do that within the next year or so. We had to turn away approximately 70 students this fall who couldn’t fly because we don’t have the capacity, but soon we hope to be able to accept more students. We will be able to do that when our aircraft fleet is different than it is now and when we get more simulators.”
 
Johnson and Tanner say graduates used to have to contact airlines for jobs after course completion, but now UVU is well-known as a trainer of pilots, and airlines are coming here looking for pilots. Johnson says the regional airlines especially will come to UVU students and work through an agreement to give them a chance to get hired by that regional airline as soon as they graduate.
 
“I’ve noticed over the past couple years that the airlines are contacting us relentlessly,” Tanner says. “Since I’ve been here, back in the ‘90s, that wasn’t the case. We used to reach out to them, but they are constantly in touch with us now trying to get in touch with our students. That’s a great thing for our graduates and our students. It’s evidence of the need out there for pilots.”