New planes and state-of-the-art flight simulators were on display Monday at the grand opening of the new Baylor University Flight Center, which is intended to take the university’s aviation sciences program to a new altitude.
Starting this fall, the Baylor Institute for Air Science is partnering with the private Universal Flight Concepts for the flight training school, located at the Texas Aero complex at Waco Regional Airport.
The partnership with one of the world’s largest flight training providers will expand flight and training opportunities for Baylor’s aviation program, which has about about 80 students, officials said.
“A lot of people came together to make this happen, but this is a great opportunity to benefit not only our students at the university, but also the nation with the huge pilot shortage we’re facing,” said Trey Cade, director of the Baylor Institute for Air Science, speaking to Baylor, city and business leaders gathered in a hangar Monday.
Founded in 1991, the Baylor Institute for Aviation Sciences offers four-year degrees in aviation sciences and aviation administration. Baylor has partnered in the past with Texas State Technical College for flight training.
“We still maintain that relationship, that relationship hasn’t gone away, but we wanted to increase our capacity, to grow the program a little bit more,” Cade said.
Universal Flight Concepts will operate the new flight school, which has 14 new Tecnam aircraft and two Tecnam-specific flight simulators. Cade said the school has three models, the P2008 two-seater aircraft, P2010 four-seater, and the P2006t twin-engine plane which is used for multi-engine training.
Gordon Jiroux, CEO of Universal Flight Concepts, started his career in helicopter training in the early 1980s, and by the 1990s, he oversaw one of the largest flight school providers in the world.
“Several years ago I realized the industry needed some help in the fixed-wing world, so I decided to impart all the knowledge I gained in the helicopter industry,” said to the crowd Monday.
Cade said the school is paid for through students’ flight fees and at no cost to Baylor. When registering, students pay a fee that covers the cost of using the planes during training. The Federal Aviation Administration sets a minimum number of flights, but students usually exceed that number before they can earn their license and the number of hours can vary.
“The student gets charged a fee to pay for that flight course,” Cade said. “Before, what we did was that flight fee was sent to TSTC to pay for the cost of flight training.”
Fees range from $12,705 to $22,770, on top of the roughly $47,644 per year students spend on tuition and fees for their bachelor of science in aviation sciences.
“Over the last few years, we’ve definitely seen an increased interest in aviation, from more students wanting to come to Baylor to study aviation,” Cade said. “Nationwide, there’s been [increased interest] in aviation as a career as well, because we’ve kind of entered into a fairly serious pilot shortage.”
Commercial, national and regional airlines are all feeling the effects of the pilot shortage, he said.
“By all estimates, this shortage of pilots we’re experiencing now is only going to get worse over time,” Cade said.
Lewis Clements, who is in his third year of the program and has flown at multiple flight schools, said the program’s new planes do make a difference.
“They’re definitely more complicated,” Clements said. “They fly different, they act different.”
Garey Lillard, who just started his first semester, said the glass cockpits use a digital interface, while older planes still have analog controls.
“Everything is on a computer screen,” Lillard said. “It’s really nice to learn how to read a digital flight display.”
Lillard said the flight school’s resources make it easier for students to fast-track their way through their required flight hours.
“I fly about five days a week,” Lillard said. “So I’m going way faster in my flight training. After seven weeks, I have almost 30 hours. I have classmates flying in other places who have like four.”