Pilot program takes flight

Bradley Sullivan, left, general manager of the Colorado Flight Center in Grand Junction, speaks at a news conference along with Dan Ashton, director of a new aviation degree program offered through Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado Community College. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Bradley Sullivan, left, general manager of the Colorado Flight Center in Grand Junction, speaks at a news conference along with Dan Ashton, director of a new aviation degree program offered through Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado Community College. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado Community College have launched what’s literally a pilot program in offering a two-year aviation degree.

Graduates will earn private and commercial pilot’s licenses as well as flight instructor certification.

“When they leave here, they can get jobs,” said Dan Ashton, a CMU professor and retired Air Force pilot who will direct the program.

The program also is expected to contribute to work force development for an industry local officials have targeted for its potential for economic development in Mesa County.

“We think it’s going to be a great economic driver,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

CMU President Tim Foster announced the program in a news conference. It’s taken a long time to go through the process of obtaining accreditation for the program as well as approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, Foster said. But the effort will be worth it for students interested in pursuing careers in aviation.

According to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for commercial  pilots is expected to grow 10 percent over the next eight years. Demand for airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers is expected to grow 5 percent.

Classes for the new program will be conducted at WCCC and CMU in Grand Junction. Flight instruction will be offered through the Colorado Flight Center, a flight training, air charter and aircraft rental business operating out of the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

The program has been approved for federal financial aid, Foster said, including educational benefits available to those who’ve served in the military.

Ashton said students will receive instruction in a variety of areas related to aviation as well as 240 hours of flight time. Graduates will earn an associate of applied science degree in aviation technology as well as a private pilot’s license, commercial pilot’s license with an instrument rating and certification as a flight instructor.

A certified public accountant, Ashton has worked at CMU since January 2014 as an assistant professor teaching accounting. Ashton has logged more than 4,000 flying hours as an aircraft commander, instructor pilot and flight examiner. He holds master’s degrees in aeronautical science and business administration.

Bradley Sullivan, general manager of the Colorado Flight Center, said the program will enable graduates to work as flight instructors as they accrue the flight time they need to further their careers. In fact, some of the graduates likely will work as instructors in teaching students in the program, Sullivan said.

Kristi Pollard, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said aviation and aerospace rank among the fastest growing industries in Colorado and a sector GJEP has targeted in its efforts to recruit businesses to Mesa County. Developing a work force for the sector will help, Pollard said.

Rick Taggart, a member of the Grand Junction City Council who also serves on the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority board of directors, agreed. “This is another piece that will help us with economic development.”