CHIPPEWA TWP. — Driven by aviation hiring needs across the country, the Community College of Beaver County will launch a new program that extends aviation classes to high school students.
The new program, Aviation Academy, will allow students beginning in January to potentially earn approximately half of an associate degree during their high school years and give them the chance to fly airplanes and drones and operate the air traffic control tower.
The initiative comes after the college’s new aviation director, Bill Pinter, attended a National Training Aircraft Symposium conference in Florida in April that discussed how to address a tremendous demand for aviation pilots.
Regional airlines are already reducing flights due to a lack of pilots, said Pinter, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.
“They’re not providing the level of service they normally provide, not because there are not customers, but because there are no pilots,” he said. “It will take time for this to permeate … to where it becomes part of the national awareness.”
The demand for commercial airline pilots alone is 4,500 pilots a year, based on a 20-year Boeing projection that was commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration, Pinter said. Adding in military, corporate and other needs, that grows to about 6,000 each year, Pinter said.
“We only produce about 3,000 pilots a year,” he said. “That’s between the military, the collegiate system and general aviation. That’s all we produce.”
The program will allow up to 50 students from sophomores to seniors the chance to take two college courses each semester while also completing high school requirements and certain college credits, Pinter said.
“One of the most important things for a student in high school is to be inspired,” CCBC President Christopher Reber said. “That will serve them well no matter what they decide to do.”
The academy will feature CCBC’s five aviation programs, which cover air traffic control en route and terminal tracks, as well as drone, professional pilot and aerospace management routes.
Major airline pilots can eventually make $60,000 to $125,000 a year by age 28 and $150,000 to $250,000 by age 33, a CCBC presentation states. National airline carriers typically require or highly advise a four-year degree for pilots, Pinter said.
Air traffic controllers can also quickly jump from an annual salary of $40,000 to more advanced tiers of $55,000 to $105,000 and $115,000 to $180,000, according to CCBC materials.
The drone industry could have $82 billion in direct economic spending between 2015 and 2025, and Pennsylvania is one of the top 10 states expected to be affected, according to a 2013 report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
CCBC’s high school aviation program and associate degree for college students could further be expanded, with students finishing the remainder of a four-year degree through Southern Illinois University at the Chippewa Township campus. Reber said that agreement could be approved by the state later this year.
Tuition for high school students would be about $1,000 per semester, Pinter said, based on two three-credit courses. That does not include flying costs if that track is pursued, he said.
Coursework can be individually tailored. Academic courses would transfer to schools like Penn State, but aviation courses may be limited to those types of institutions. But those credits would still transfer to other schools the college has agreements with, Pinter said.
For one pilot-related route in the college’s aviation academy, a high school student would earn 37 credits over three years.
The total cost for an associate degree, completing the end of a four-year degree through an agreement with a partnering college and flying costs would be about $60,000 to become a professional pilot, according to CCBC.
The two-year air traffic control program is about $17,000. Pinter has already met with two school districts, Western Beaver and Blackhawk, and he plans to meet with other school districts for additional auditorium presentations. An open house for parents and students is also expected.
Thirteen of 14 area school districts have already agreed to partner with the program, providing transportation to CCBC’s Aviation Sciences Center at the Beaver County Airport.
“The school districts are really gung-ho,” Reber said. “This is truly a collaborative partnership initiative.”
The move also comes as the FAA says it has seen a need to hire more than 6,600 air traffic controllers over the next five years.
But the FAA also changed a long-standing arrangement that gave Collegiate Training Initiative schools, such as CCBC’s program, advantage in the federal hiring process. When that happened, some CCBC students dropped out or switched to other aviation programs at CCBC, seeing that the hiring calls required only three years of progressive work experience or a four-year bachelor’s degree or a combination of both, among other requirements.
This year, CCBC saw a 33 percent drop in enrollment for air traffic control students, Pinter said.
But Pinter said the most recent call for applications allowed 40-plus CCBC students to move forward, which was consistent with previous years. And according to the FAA, CTI students are still moving along the federal hiring process at a rate that’s triple that of other applicants.
The academy outreach also underscores the nation’s push for science, technology, engineering and math, CCBC officials said, a focus commonly abbreviated as STEM.
“The jobs are here,” Pinter said. “The pay is here, and the cost … is unmatched.”