May 24, 2017

President James Smith takes flight to showcase quality of Eastern Michigan University’s flight training program at Willow Run Airport

President and Dean of College of Technology, Mohamad Qatu, draw attention to well-located aviation program that offers multiple career options
This is the view that President James Smith and others enjoyed as they flew over the EMU campus. President Smith was impressed at seeing the hands-on training students receive at the Eagle Flight Centre.

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan President James Smith likes to get out on campus and listen and learn as he samples EMU’s many academic realms.

Recently, such exploration involved a morning drive to Willow Run Airport and a single-engine plane flight to Jackson and back.

president smith in plane
Check out what President James Smith saw on his flight, along with his discussion of the Eastern Michigan University Aviation Program. 

President Smith and Mohamad Qatu, dean of the EMU College of Technology, visited the Eagle Flight Centre, which houses the hands-on, in-air portion of the EMU Aviation Program.

“The opportunity to be able to experience our aviation program first-hand was really critical (to me),” Smith said. “I like to fly, so having the opportunity to be with our instructors and their planes – seeing what they do every day with students – was really valuable.”

The group took off into fair skies and light winds at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 16 from The Eagle Fight Centre and flew to the Jackson County Airport.

Hands-on training impresses President

President Smith flew with Joe Mills, chief flight instructor for the program, while Dean Qatu flew with Nick Ellison, a flight instructor and a graduate of the Eastern aviation program. As they left the airport, Mills smartly banked the plane left, over the Flight Centre, giving onlookers a good look at the airborne Cessna Skyhawk, with its “E” logo on the tail, before it headed west, over the Eastern campus, the EMU football stadium and on to Jackson.

Experiencing the students’ routine in the program, seeing the facility and the expertise of the instructors left a strong impression on President Smith.

“The opportunity in aviation to be hands-on speaks for itself,” he said of the training EMU students receive. “You can’t learn to fly without being in a plane.”

The collegiate flight program is one of just two bachelor’s degree programs in Michigan. Eastern’s program offers a distinct advantage, in that it’s located in southeast Michigan, close to the epicenter of Michigan's aviation industry, with major nearby hubs at Detroit Metro Airport and Willow Run. Such proximity allows flight and management students to jump-start their careers and seek industry employment while still attending school. Students also have greater access to airlines, corporate operations, and cargo flight companies after graduation.

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 overlaps with aviation management and focuses on training students in various aspects of flight operations.

The flight program currently enrolls about 130 students, including 10 women, its largest class of women ever, while the aviation management program has 50 students.

The EMU Eagle Flight Centre is located at Willow Run Airport, just six miles from the main campus. The Flight Centre boasts a number of advanced aircraft, including Cessna Skyhawk 172 SP’s, in which President Smith and Dean Qatu flew. Those planes are equipped with state-of-the-art Garmin G1000 glass cockpit avionics for use by its student pilots. The Flight Centre also includes a flight simulator, briefing rooms, classroom space, offices and a spacious central area.

president smith
President James Smith discusses his upcoming flight with chief flight instructor Joe Mills, center, and Tom Simon, marketing director for the Eagle Flight Centre.

Powerful need for new pilots projected

The Flight Centre gives students the hands on experience they need to become professional pilots as they earn their private, instrument, commercial and certified flight instructor certifications, while the University provides the supporting and background coursework. Most of the courses are taught in Sill Hall, home of Eastern’s College of Technology.

Last year brought good news, as the Federal Aviation Administration, in recognition of the Eastern program’s proficiency, reduced the required number of hours students needed to fly to earn their Restricted ATP certificate, trimming the in-air requirement from 1,500 to 1,000 hours.

“This will have a significant impact on the cost of securing the degree and certificate,” Qatu said.

Boeing, a major producer of commercial aircraft, has 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.

“Given that, and with the reduction of flight hours by the FAA, now is a great time to pursue a career in the aviation field,” Mills said.

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,, 734.487.4401

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