April 28, 2017

Eastern Michigan University Aviation program has record enrollment of women

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Women in the EMU aviation program include: Back row (L to R): Morgan Butera, Elena Fornara, Sam Brinkman, Justine Ko. Middle: Eva Huang, Gracie Murphy, Samantha McMahon. Sitting: Colleen Privatte.

YPSILANTI – Following a national trend, the aviation program at Eastern Michigan University recorded its highest ever enrollment of female student pilots this year.

Ten women are currently enrolled in a program of 130 students. Since the inception of the Eagle Flight Centre in 2001 only one or two women at any given time have pursued a degree in Aviation Flight Technology. 

"The aviation community is in great need of talented pilots to meet the increasing industry demands, and having more women join the profession is a great way to help relieve the worldwide shortage of pilots,” said Joseph Mills, chief flight instructor for the Eagle Flight Centre. “Flying is a skill that anyone can learn as long as you commit to the challenge and put in the hard work. It has been great seeing so many young motivated woman joining our program and working towards their dream of becoming professional aviators."

According to 2016 U.S. Civil Airmen Statistics published by the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of active student women airmen certificates increased from 9,559 to 15,971 between 2007-2016. 

Boeing, a major producer of commercial aircraft, also projected that 617,000 new commercial airline pilots will be needed to fly worldwide over the next 20 years, including 112,000 in North America.

Interest in aviation at an early age

Several of the female aviation students at EMU joined the program because their families introduced them to the aviation field at an early age. Victoria Cansler, an aviation flight technology major, recalled that when her father was earning his Private Pilot Certification she accompanied him as a passenger on one of his lessons.  

“I was in total awe at the sights and the experience of flying above Michigan,” said Cansler. “I knew that I wanted to be someone who had that amount of freedom, to fly wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.”

Morgan Butera, another EMU aviation flight technology major, was influenced by both of her grandparents.

“My grandparents are both general aviation pilots," she said. "My grandpa had a private plane, his Cessna Cardinal, so it was a four-seater, retractable gear plane. When he met my grandma, she was 40 and that was when she decided to get her Private Pilot Certificate, so I grew up flying with them.”

What the aviation program offers students  

Eastern Michigan University's collegiate flight program is one of three in Michigan. Unlike the others, it's located in the epicenter of Michigan's aviation industry, with major nearby hubs at Detroit Metro Airport and Willow Run.

The aviation program at EMU offers three programs of study: aviation flight technology, which prepares students to be pilots; aviation management, which prepares students for entry-level management and supervisory positions; and dispatch certification, which focuses on training students in various aspects of flight operations.

Butera chose the flight program at EMU because of Patty Smart, a pilot and family friend.

“She’s involved in the Ninety-Nines, an association of women pilots who have their private license, as well as the Sixty-Sixes, which is an association of student pilots,” said Butera. “She’s got all of this information about education and where you can go; she was really the one to talk to when I was making this decision and recommended EMU, which turned out to a great choice for me.”

Elena Fornara, an aviation flight technology and management double major, moved from her home in Modena, Italy to enroll at EMU and noticed a significant difference in teaching styles.

“The professors at EMU put passion into what they teach you here compared to the professors at my aviation high school in Italy, who didn’t have any emotion,” said Fornara. “They just talked at you and didn’t seem to care.”   

The Eagle Flight Centre gives students the hands on experience they need to become professional pilots as they earn their private, instrument, commercial and Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certifications, while the University provides the knowledge students need to excel in training. 

Due to the course size of the aviation program and the same professors teaching the curriculum, students are often with their peers every day, which allows them to create close connections and receive the support that they need.

Butera said, “You only go through four different professors for the aviation courses, so you’re with the same people every day. Because you’re creating these bonds, going to study groups, everyone knows what you’re talking about when it comes to aviation. I can bounce ideas off them and if I need help, I have the help. It really is a benefit to anyone who’s going through the program.”  

A variety of possible careers

Despite pursuing the same degree, the women in the aviation flight technology program differ in what careers they want to pursue after graduating and earning their certifications.  

Butera plans on combining her law enforcement degree from Henry Ford College with her pilot certificates at EMU to work for the Drug Enforcement Administration, flying across Michigan to look for illegal drugs while building up the credit hours needed to earn her ATP certificate.

The ATP certificate is the highest level of aircraft pilot certificate and is required to be able to serve as a crew member in a Part 121 Air Carrier (airline) operation. 

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration reduced the required number of hours students in the Eastern Michigan Aviation program needed to fly to earn their Restricted ATP certificate, trimming the in-air requirement from 1,500 to 1,000 hours.

“The time-frame in the air with them [DEA] is 10 hours per day that you work, so you build up 1,000 hours really quick,” said Butera. “I am learning that there are so many more options out there that you could do to earn those hours, but the most common is becoming a flight instructor.”

After graduating, Cansler hopes to work at the Eagle Flight Centre as a certified flight instructor, eventually becoming a cargo pilot for UPS or FedEx.

While Fornara is earning her certification to become an air pilot, hoping to work for Emirates Airline, she wants to use her management degree to explore other career opportunities in the future.

“To become a pilot you have to have a medical certificate, which you earn by passing a physical examination,” said Fornara. “If health issues occur in the future, I’ll have more opportunities in the aviation field with my management degree compared to only as a pilot.”  

Strong need for new pilots

With Boeing’s projection of 112,000 additional pilots needed in North America within the next 20 years and the reduction of flight hours by the FAA, now is a great time to pursue a career in the aviation field.

“Where I am from, there aren’t many flight schools and the opportunities are really low,” said Fornara. “In the United States there are a lot of opportunities, because every airline is now searching for pilots.”

When asked for advice to give to women interested in joining the aviation field, Fornara said to never give up.

“Sometimes in Italy I was really demotivated because a lot of males in my high school said that I will never become a pilot because I am a woman,” said Fornara. “This made me stronger, motivating me to fight more for becoming a pilot and to never give up.”

Butera said that people should participate and find out if it’s the right career for them.

“Get involved," she said. "If you want to see if it’s for you, go out and see it, find events that you can participate in, talk to people about aviation, and ask questions. It’s a great view when you’re up in the air, and to see a woman up there, it’s more powerful.”   

The EMU Eagle Flight Centre is located at Willow Run Airport, just six miles from the main campus, and offers programs in aviation flight technology, aviation management and dispatch certification. The Flight Centre boasts a number of advanced aircraft, including Cessna Skyhawk 172 SP’s, which are equipped with state-of-the-art Garmin G1000 glass cockpit avionics for use by its student pilots.

For more information about the aviation programs at Eastern Michigan University, please visit EMU Aviation Programs or call the EMU Eagle Flight Centre at 734-481-3000.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 22,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

Contact Geoff Larcom, glarcom@emich.edu, 734.487.4401

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