Delaware State University’s blossoming aviation program will be able to give students more flight time, additional training and a safer environment thanks to a $5.9 million grant to improve the Delaware Airpark in Dover.
The Airpark serves flights into Central Delaware, but the DSU Aviation Program is its primary user.
Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons announced the grant through the Federal Aviation Administration this week.
The money will expand the runway’s size and length, provide a taxiway and apron system, install better lighting and expand the airport to meet growing demand.
“A longer runway is a safer runway,” said Hans Reigle, interim director of aviation.
Reigle said the lighting will allow the program to run flights in marginal weather and at night. That will give students more chances to earn their required flying hours and give them practice in different kinds of conditions.
“Not only will it improve safety, it’s just a better product we can advertise. It’s a recruiting tool when a parent comes out and sees this very nice facility,” Reigle said.
The aviation program has flourished as demand for pilots soars. There are about 105 students, 72 of them pilots; the others are in aviation management.
Those aviation management students could benefit from the expanded traffic the renovations will bring in.
“For those students, the more they can be around the business, the more experiences they get,” Reigle said.
The program has a 100 percent job placement rate, Reigle said, with some airlines signing students up to jobs before they’ve even graduated.
Saydina Diagne, a DSU senior, picked the school during a 2011 visit from his native Staten Island.
“When they were showing me around, I knew right there that’s what I wanted to do,” Diagne said.
Diagne’s excited at the prospect of a longer runway and the ability to practice instrument procedure in night runs.
Flying provides a challenge, Diagne said, that few people get to experience. And the thrill hasn’t worn off.
“I get that feeling of flying for the first time every day,” he said. “I feel like I belong up there.”
Aside from the educational value, Carper and Coons said in statements that the renovations could be an economic boom.
“The general aviation industry contributes more than $150 billion annually to our economy and employs more than 1.2 million people throughout the country,” Carper said. “This grant award will help the Delaware Airpark expand and attract new clients to the area, and hopefully businesses in the surrounding area will also reap these benefits.”