SAVOY — For years, we’ve thought of the airline pilot as a middle-aged white male, with white hair and a deep, soothing voice — as in “Sully” or “Airplane!”
Not so at the Institute of Aviation at Parkland College. There are women, students without white hair and plenty of non-traditional students.
There’s a nationwide shortage of pilots, and a younger crowd will be coming along — they’ll have to work on that deep, polite voice.
Commercial airline pilot Patrick Smith, who blogs about his chosen career, says the shortage is already harming his industry: Horizon had to cancel more than 300 flights in June. Earlier, Republic Airways, a regional carrier that flies on behalf of United, American and Delta, filed for bankruptcy protection — blaming the filing, in part, on a lack of qualified pilots before emerging from bankruptcy.
The Parkland program, which rents facilities from the University of Illinois, which owns Willard Airport, can only fill so many of those spots. (Local program support also comes from FlightStar and Frasca in the form of fleet maintenance and training simulators.)
Parkland Chief Pilot Donald Talleur said the college, which took over the Savoy-based program from the UI after a campuswide restructuring in 2014, has just over 50 pilots in training, including some in Parkland Pathway, a cooperative degree program with the Urbana campus.
The students are varied indeed, including some women, international students, those seeking degrees and those not, and various non-traditional students like Adam Davis, who at 25 already has experience as an Army air traffic controller in Alaska.
There’s also more of a diversity of economic status, a longtime goal of the community college, said Aviation Program Recruiter Wendy L. Evans.
“We’re built on making these programs more accessible,” she said.
Among the institute’s goals, she said, are making students see aviation as a viable career path, increasing the program’s visibility and maintaining high standards for individuals in the aviation field.
“We recognize the importance of developing a diverse workforce, as the industry averages are extremely low for both minorities and women,” she said.
“Being a part of a community college has allowed the institute to be more accessible to a more diverse population than would otherwise be possible in other educational settings,” she added.
The institute has partnerships with Lewis and Western Michigan universities for four-year transfer options, like Amina Jackson, 21, who plans to get a management degree at Western Michigan.
For their employment possibilities, Parkland has strong strategic partnerships with Trans States Airlines and Republic Airways, both regional carriers.
Setting the bar high for diversity
Students and an instructor from Parkland’s Institute of Aviation come from different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: a love of flying.
I love flying because it serves as my peace. I love to travel, and I love zoning out looking out of the window when flying. Whether I’m a passenger on a commercial flight or flying the Archer, there’s something about being able to see the world from such a different perspective. I could never think of anything better or cooler than flying an aircraft through the skies.
I graduated from Mahomet-Seymour in 2011, and I joined the Army as an air traffic controller. I have chosen to pursue a career in aviation after I fell in love with flying while in Alaska, hands down one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. While I am not the “typical student,” being 25 and prior military, the great thing about our classes is we have people from all walks of life. I plan to get my private, commercial multi-engine and flight instructor certifications from the institute.
I am pursuing becoming a commercial pilot. Though the other aspects of aviation are interesting, I like the “Flying an Airplane” aspect. The feeling of being in the air, though sometimes frightening, is quite fun in experiencing. The aviation program at Parkland is simple to apply for and is a really fun experience to have. The people are very nice and supportive; since we just started, people are very patient since the program is a training program for pilots as well as air traffic controllers.
I am a full-time flight instructor at the Institute of Aviation at Parkland College. I started flying when I was a sophomore at the University of Illinois. At first, I did not expect to complete all of the required training courses and never pictured myself being a pilot. However, I quickly fell in love with aviation, and here I am flying for a living. In May, I graduated from the UI with a master’s degree in statistics. I studied to become an actuary, but could not ignore my passion for flying. I have attempted to combine my degree and aviation together through a few research projects involving aviation insurance.
At the end of the school year of my sophomore year of college, I went home, disappointed that no major stuck, and confused about what was next. One day, almost all at once, it hit me. My grandfather was a pilot in the military and got his private pilot’s license shortly after to fly smaller airplanes. My father once had his pilot’s license and wished he could have pursued his aviation path further. It was after talking to my father about his experiences in an airplane that I began to find my niche. The next step was to decide how to enter the field, either through military or education. I found the answer through a newspaper article my grandfather had sent me that said pilots will soon be in big demand, and Parkland College is looking for new aviation students.