Western Michigan University Interns Explore Growing Aviation Industry
February 8, 2013
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  • By Mike Nichols

    They’re getting a look at the private side of the business — and liking it.

    As a boy, Alan Foster wanted to become a pilot so he could fight the Nazis.

    The 23-year old Western Michigan University senior now laughs about his heartbreaking discovery that the “best bad guys” already had been beaten.

    He may never get into a dogfight with the Luftwaffe, but Foster’s passion for aviation has remained unbroken.

    Foster, who is studying aviation science and administration, is now an intern at Northern Jet Management, where he has worked in backroom administration, jet fuel scheduling, fuel cost negotiations and government bidding.

    Over the course of his internship, Foster said his initial desire to become a career pilot changed as he realized the value of the assets used throughout the aviation industry. He now hopes to go into scheduling before possibly moving to aircraft sales.

    “I liked how aviation made the world smaller, made it possible for different cultures to mingle and have different goods brought from place to place,” he said. “You start off wanting to learn to fly … but there’s so much you can do in the industry. Recently, there’s been a huge expansion. There’s the opening of the international airport in Kalamazoo, expansion of a lot of airports within this area. I think the market’s shifting toward private aviation. You see charter companies like this coming out stronger than the airlines.”

    Foster’s story of lifelong love for aviation is shared by fellow WMU senior and aviation intern Dan Douglas.

    Douglas, an aviation maintenance and technology major, first fell in love with planes when he discovered his father’s box of old airplane show magazines. Originally, he too wanted to make a career out of manning a cockpit, and although he currently is working on getting his private pilot’s license, he is considering a move into aviation maintenance.

    Douglas said he would be happy working with Northern Jet Management. He sees maintenance as job security in a growing industry. For every pilot’s job, there are about two to three mechanics who are needed to maintain the aircraft, he said, and that’s just in the United States.

    “Aviation’s growing globally, especially in the Middle East and Asia. Their middle class is ready to experience what the middle class has experienced here. They’re ready to go on vacation, ready to travel,” he said. “The airlines are ordering more planes, needing pilots and maintenance personnel. There’s also a prediction that the business aviation side of it will also be growing and mirroring America. They’re thinking sales in China might increase.”

    Foster echoed Douglas, saying the industry pendulum is swinging from larger airline corporations to private aviation businesses. The initial draw to aviation during Trans-World Airlines’ and Pan-Am’s glory days was the image of luxurious travel, he said. Airlines now have become more like buses, and the industry is seeing the shift to private aviation because that’s where old-school comfortable and quick travel still exists, he said.

    “You go to O’Hare or Atlanta airports, and these are no longer fun experiences. These are stressful experiences,” Foster said. “You can come here, and it’s not a whole lot of people. You can get on your plane, you can go where you want to go and not have a lot of hassle.”

    Will the private aviation industry overtake the public airlines? Probably not, Foster said, but the shift is revealing that Americans want easier travel.

    “Airlines aren’t going anywhere, but what they’re losing is in-flight meals and legroom,” Foster said. “The comfort of flying is going away, but a business model like Jet Blue or Southwest could become popular. We’re going to see a growth in private aviation.”