Winning with Warner: Scott’s Aviation Management Maturation

Posted by Tom Thinnes on Fri, Apr 27, 2018 @ 12:52 PM

2018 Warner, Scott 01While a number of people think aviation runs on jet fuel, most know the management of assets is what keeps the birds in the sky. Think about the old joke, “What makes airplanes fly?” From a technical perspective, the correct answer involves an understanding of the four forces of flight. For the comedians, the funny answer is, “Money!” However, for people like Western Michigan University Alumnus Scott Warner, the truth falls squarely with a solid understanding of aviation business.

Growing up in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan, Warner was your typical kid. With one difference, “Ever since I can remember, transportation fascinated me,” he said. While it isn’t uncommon for young children to become interested in cars and trains, Warner began fixating on other things. “For me,” he said, “airplanes were the coolest. I always enjoyed airports, airshows, and just being around aircraft. I remember always reading about airplanes. The truly interesting part, I came from a family of non-aviators, so it’s hard to understand exactly how I became so interested in aviation – but I’m glad I did!”

Unlike some students, whose interest in certain things wane over time (think dinosaurs!), Warner’s curiosity with transportation and aviation only deepened. Using every opportunity at his disposal, the up-and-coming aviation scholar continued to investigate and expand his understanding and knowledge about the industry. As a student at South Lake High School, no chance was squandered. “If there was a way to learn about airplanes, I used it to my advantage. I can’t tell you the number of class reports I did in high school dealing with aviation and aircraft,” he said jokingly.

2018 Warner, Scott 06Matriculating to Western Michigan University, Warner began his quest to major in Aviation Science and Administration (Now known as Aviation Management and Operations). Combining his passion for the aviation industry with a keen interest in business, marketing and sales, Warner saw the science and administration degree as the perfect blend. Thinking back on the time, he said, “As a student, there are so many great memories. I thoroughly enjoyed my involvement with the various registered student organizations, and will never forget the friends and memories I made in the Aviation House of Henry Hall.”

As with most students, the social aspects of the experience stick out as fond memories. However, Warner stated he would be remiss if he didn’t give accolades to the faculty and staff he encountered during his tenure. “My interactions at Western Michigan University with the faculty and staff of the College of Aviation was always positive,” he said. “Each person I interacted with, regardless of their status as faculty or staff, brought value to my education and had an impact on my overall work life. Many of them provided me with connections I would never have been able to make myself, provided advice and guidance about subjects I never would have thought about. The best part, these relationships continue. Even as an alumni, they continue to offer their support as professional mentors.”

2018 Warner, Scott 04Graduating with his bachelor of science in 2011, Warner’s time at WMU wasn’t finished. Soon after walking across Miller Auditorium and shaking President Dunn’s hand, he landed right back where he just left – the Aviation Education Center working with the Recruitment and Outreach department of the College of Aviation. Using his talents in marketing and sales, with his strong aviation background, Warner helped to lay the foundation in recruitment, which continues to be built upon today. “As a member of the WMU Aviation staff,” he stated, “I truly enjoyed working with prospective students and the mentoring of current student staff members. Watching them grow, mature and start their own careers was very rewarding. It’s awesome to see all the places they have gone and the roles they currently hold.”

2018 Warner, Scott 05While Warner was flourishing in his recruitment role, he wasn’t done with the world of academia. While the degree in aviation management satiated his aviation hunger, he was still starving to expand his business acumen. In 2015, Warner graduated from the WMU Haworth College of Business with his Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Using the combination of the two degrees, he cast off to continue his adventure in the aviation industry.

Since graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Warner has engaged in a number of opportunities. Beyond his time in the Recruitment and Outreach department of WMU, Warner states, “I have been quite fortunate to experience a lot of different, challenging, and eye-opening roles within the aviation industry: sales and marketing, aviation/business consultant for several major airport construction projects, inside sales for L3 Aviation Products, and international business consulting within aviation. These positions allowed me to engage in aerospace and defense, consulting and aviation education sectors of the industry.”

2018 Warner, Scott 03Currently, Warner works for L3 Aviation Products (L3 Technologies) as a Service, Repair, and Overhaul Administrator in Grand Rapids, Michigan with the task of supporting the suite of L3 Aviation products which include: cockpit voice recorders, flight data recorders (black boxes), and other avionics technologies required in aircraft cockpits, components and communication. “My job?” he asked. “I manage the customer interfacing and coordinate the internal communication as a representative of the client. I am the main point of contact for many of L3’s worldwide customers who require our repair and overhaul services. Many of our products support incredibly important missions, making the repair of downed equipment extremely important.”

Completing the job requires a tremendous amount of teamwork. Said Warner, “One of the things I love about the job is the team of talented individuals I work with. I enjoy being part of such a fantastic, talented and energetic team committed to providing the aerospace industry with some of the most technologically advanced products available.” As most people might think, a company such as L3 usually attracts individuals with an interest in aviation and aerospace. “The L3 team,” said Warner, “is comprised of many aviation-centric individuals who love the industry, who are committed to providing our industry with new tools for aviation safety, defense and training. There is nothing better than a great team to work with every day!”

As in most jobs, there are good aspects and challenging things. For Warner, some of the best include working with a diverse product line, servicing all makes and models of aircraft: from the classic Cessna 172, to the Airbus A350, to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. However, he can’t lie, “I love working with our products and the great people I interact with. But, having every other Friday off and being provided the opportunity to learn to fly for free isn’t too bad either!”

When asked about the challenges, Warner was very open, “Our customers demand perfection, and we deliver it. However, this does occasionally cause a ‘heavy’ amount of pressure. Topped with the fact we operate in an industry which operates 24/7 around the world, it can get pretty busy and hectic.” Additionally, with an industry so closely linked to the economy, there can be a number of ups and downs. Said Warner, “Sometimes there are reductions of force (lay-offs) as a result of uncontrolled events. In addition, it is incredibly competitive, due to performance and contract wins. Let’s be honest, if it was easy, everyone would do it!”

2018 Warner, Scott 07Even though Warner has entered the aviation workforce, his passion for aviation has not decreased. “I have a lot of great memories in aviation,” he said, “and I am sure there are plenty more to come!” Warner has been fortunate enough to represent a number of different companies at EAA Oshkosh, been responsible for the activation of new airport terminal operations, and has attended the World Aviation Training Symposium as a student while at WMU. All of which has built a foundation of fun that continues to produce. “My connections within aviation have helped me explore the world, make great friendships, while also creating many good memories. Most of which wouldn’t have occurred without my interest in the field.”

Looking toward the future, Warner has his sights on other opportunities and avenues within the industry – possibly pursuing options in aviation marketing, sales or operations at an airline-training academy, airline or large airport. While he looks forward, he also understands the necessity of promoting the present and supporting the past. As an alumnus of the Western Michigan University College of Aviation, Warner embraces his responsibility of giving back. “Aviation needs mentors, educators, and supporters for the next generation of aviation professionals.” he said. “If we don’t plant the seeds now, we will not have the workforce to cultivate later.”

His support for aviation is only paralleled by his support for his alma mater. Understanding the importance of brandishing positive attitudes toward WMU, Warner stated, “The more the WMU brand becomes known and recognized within the aviation industry, the better it is for our alumni, current students, and our program. Every time someone recognizes or acknowledges themselves as a member of the Bronco Aviation family, our ‘value’ increases as we represent ourselves as high-quality, highly competent aviation professionals. This not only helps our career progression, it also helps our fellow Broncos who will come after us.”

2018 Warner, Scott 02Beyond WMU, Warner has also dedicated himself to growing professionally within the industry. As a stanch member and supporter of the West Michigan Business Aviation Association (WMBAA), Warner is often seen representing the organization at various events like their annual golf outing and scholarship drives. Not only does this make good sense professionally, it also helps to increase awareness in other aviation avenues. “WMBAA does a lot of great things. In particular, it helps to promote alternative career choices for pilots, mechanics, and managers. Aviation has so many good ‘avenues’ to pursue, but it is our job to help educate people about those options. Through our efforts in WMBAA, we help individuals investigate the different paths within the industry, since the road one chooses can impact your satisfaction within the career significantly.”

While Mick Jagger may not have been able to find any satisfaction, this hasn’t been the case for Scott Warner. Following ones passion, pursuing a plan of action, and persevering through various challenges seem to be his battle cry. One could honestly say, these are “Warner’s Words of Wisdom.” Not only does he say them, he has also lives them.

Topics: WMU Alumni, aviation management, L3 Products

Out of this Earth: Margo Vriesinga reaches for the stars with Virgin Galactic

Posted by Tom Thinnes on Fri, Mar 30, 2018 @ 03:27 PM

2018 Vriesinga, Margo 07“Space: the final frontier.” For many, these famous words echoed out of television and movie screens, providing viewers the opportunity to passively engage in outer space exploits. For some, the words acted as a magnet, drawing the individuals towards the human quest to explore and colonize the space immediately beyond Earth’s atmosphere. For Margo Vriesinga, the call of the final frontier would come after a journey that took her from cars to complex jet engines to Virgin Galactic!

Growing up in Farmington, MI, Vriesinga’s “drive” usually revolved around vehicles with four wheels that never left the ground. “Originally, my interest was focused on cars and high school auto shop,” she recalled. “So, when time came to apply to college, I did not really have a direction.” Fortunately, Vriesinga had a very keen sense of detail. While examining the list of over 150 undergraduate majors offered at Western Michigan University, something stuck out. “When I looked at WMUs list of majors,” she said, “aviation maintenance caught my eye and I never looked back.”

Graduating from Farmington High School in 2013, Vriesinga blasted off for Kalamazoo, MI to pursue a degree in aviation maintenance technology. The program, now called aviation technical operations, provides students the opportunity to blend academic requirements with technical competencies. Students in the WMU program not only earn their Bachelor of Science degree in technical operations, they also obtain the skills necessary to test for the airframe and powerplant certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.

2018 Vriesinga, Margo 01Just like the majority of students in the Tech Ops curriculum, Vriesinga had a favorite class. While most enjoy the academic and theory portion, their true love usually resides in the hands-on portion. Vriesinga fell right into this paradigm. “My favorite class at Western?” she thought. “That is easy. It was engine overhaul. I have always enjoyed engine work. As part of the class, I was lucky enough to perform a complete overhaul on an engine, more or less on my own.”

In addition to possessing the passion, Vriesinga also encountered the human element in her quest to pursue a degree in aviation technical operations: dedicated and committed WMU College of Aviation faculty. “My favorite instructors at WMU were Jeremy Hierholzer and Terry Michmerhuizen. However, I also have a special place for Blair Balden,” she said. “Both Mr. Hierholzer and Mr. Michmerhuizen always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself or had lost my drive. However, I also really appreciate Mr. Balden. He definitely cared about me, and my well-being. I was in the hospital and he reached out to make sure I was all right – even though I hadn’t been in a class of his for nearly a year. That meant a lot to me and showed how much he cared.”

Any journey, especially one to outer space, can be fraught with challenges and speed bumps. For Vriesinga, the challenge came from the inside. Looking back, she said, “My biggest challenge in school was being too proud. I didn’t like to admit when I was wrong or didn’t know something, and struggled admitting it to myself and others.” Fortunately, a number of WMU faculty members helped Vriesinga to address this. “Both Mr. Hierholzer and Mr. Mitch were willing to call me out when my pride got the better of me,” she recalled.

2018 Vriesinga, Margo 05In addition to faculty, Vriesinga also was fortunate enough to have professionals in the industry who were instrumental in helping to overcome this challenge. “As I entered the industry,” she stated, “I was fortunate to work with patient people who were passionate about their work and were willing to lend a hand. Overall, I feel that helped humble me, especially since aviation is a constant learning environment which requires everyone to share information and expertise.”

Finishing her degree in 2017, Vriesinga headed off to the wild blue yonder … at first. Spending time as an intern at Stryker Medical’s corporate flight department, she had the opportunity to help their aviation maintenance department keep the corporate jet of this Fortune 500 Company operational. However, the wild blue would soon be changed to the vacuum of space.

Currently, Vriesinga works for Virgin Galactic and is a Space Wrench on WhiteKnightTwo (the carrier aircraft) and SpaceShipTwo (the reusable, winged spacecraft). Living in Lancaster, California, which is on the north edge of Los Angeles, Vriesinga makes the commute to the spaceport located in Mojave, California. Said Vriesinga, “The current test site is in the middle of the desert and the town is nearly non-existent. In addition, the spaceport is just north of Edward’s Air Force Base, which has a lot of sonic booms. Therefore, it makes sense to live somewhere quieter.”

2018 Vriesinga, Margo 04Working at Virgin Galactic is a dream job for many people. For Vriesinga, not only is it a dream, it is one she loves due to the daily challenges.” When I started at Virgin Galactic, we were undergoing a large modification process and making many big changes to our space ship,” she said. “The company has extended a great deal of trust in the maintenance team, allowing a lot of judgment calls to be made from the shop floor, followed up by engineers for formal documentation. Additionally, I have fabricated parts for the next two space ships, which are currently in production. This is amazing, especially since I never anticipated being in manufacturing. Currently the company is working with the FAA to write the future laws of commercial space travel.” No wonder there is such a fondness for the job!

However, executing operations for the final frontier can be difficult. Technical operation departments that stay within the confines of our atmosphere have the benefits of existing manuals and established practices. For “space wrenchers” like Vriesinga, most of what they do is a product of synthesis – creating new techniques and strategies. Said Vriesinga, “A lot of our work is based on judgments made on the fly, working collaboratively with engineering. Since we don’t have a lot of technical data, we must rely on new thought processes which are based on system standards and the FAA regulations dealing with acceptable methods, techniques and practices for large aircraft inspection and repair (AC43.13). This also requires the ability to test for new standards and efficiency practices.”

2018 Vriesinga, Margo 06Ultimately, the payoff is worth the work. Hands down, when asked what her favorite memory of work is, Vriesinga exalts, “My first time launching Space Ship 2!” Even though the event required arriving to work at 2 a.m., Vriesinga fondly remembers watching the fruits of her labor take off, heading for the final frontier. However, she would be remiss if she didn’t mention the Mooney. “Reassembling the Mooney and running it for the first time at WMU was pretty fun too.” We’ll take second!

Looking towards the future, Vriesinga has set her focus on additional responsibilities and challenges. “Long term,” she said, “I hope to become a crew chief of one of the upcoming space ships that are in production. Possibly, at some point, I would be interested in utilizing my F35 lift fan and turbine training in a more active situation.”

While looking forward, Vriesinga also has words of wisdom for those looking to enter the industry. “Try it. It can’t hurt to try it. Go to A&P school, make mistakes, try something that makes you uncomfortable and just see how many places you can go. There’s a whole world out there.” For Vriesinga, it just isn’t the world; it’s the whole Universe!

Topics: WMU Alumni, Aviation Maintenance Technology, Virgin Galactic, Tech Ops

Torqued off, and loving every minute of it!  Meet American Airlines aircraft mechanic Simi Razvi

Posted by Tom Thinnes on Mon, Mar 05, 2018 @ 03:24 PM

Simi Razvi, aviation maintenance tecnician sitting in front of a jet engineApplying pressure – whether in life or on the job – is an art form. Apply too much pressure and cracks will develop; not enough and things can unravel. The trick is using the right tools, knowing what needs to be torqued, and, most importantly, realizing the appropriate time and place to execute. Simi Razvi epitomizes the contemporary aircraft-maintenance tech in the world of high-skilled, modern-day aviation. She has leveraged her time in education, pushing and applying pressure when needed, advancing her career to American Airlines at warp-like speed.

In aviation technical operations, one of the coveted career paths is working at a major airline. This is where the airframe and powerplant mechanic gets to work on the big birds: overhauling engines (some of which have more horsepower than all of those aboard the Titanic) examining the structural integrity of the jet, maintaining electrical systems, problem-solving the hydraulics on the aircraft, and so much more. However, it takes drive, determination, and an understanding of networking to get there.

Simi Razvi working on a jet engineGrowing up in Detroit, Razvi was the typical kid. However, one fateful opportunity pointed her in a direction that would have a profound impact on her life. As Razvi remembers, “I was fortunate. When it came time to for high school, I attended Davis Aerospace Technical High School, which was located at the Coleman A. Young International Airport in Detroit. Davis Aerospace was heavily aviation-oriented, so it was hard not to get hooked! The more I learned about aviation, the more I wanted to make a career out of it.”

Graduating in 2009 from Davis, Razvi chose to attend Western Michigan University and major in aviation maintenance technology. Reflecting back to the time, Razvi says, “Everything just fell into place and led me to where I am today.” Her time at WMU was filled with many great memories as she moved forward with her quest to become an aviation maintenance technician.

“There are a lot of things that come to mind,” she says. In particular, she remembers her time in the aircraft-systems course. “There have been many occasions while troubleshooting systems when this class came in handy. Lately, we’ve been having a lot of issues with improper hydraulic quantities and pneumatic systems because of the weather. I troubleshoot these systems just as I did in class.”

To say this would make her WMU professors happy and proud is an understatement! Razvi thinks about the impact two WMU professors had on her education: Jeremy Hierholzer and Dr. Gail Rouscher. “Jeremy’s classes were far from boring and very hands-on,” Razvi says. “He taught from a real-world standpoint, which really helped me understand the material better and apply it to my career. He also helped me get into Virginia Tech’s Master in Information Technology program.” Razvi also offered accolades to Rouscher. “Gail took the time to help me improve my riveting techniques, especially countersinking rivets. I remember being frustrated a few times and she was always there to help.”

Simi Razvi working for American AirlinesHowever, as with many students, while the academic portion of the degree was important and provided memories, Razvi’s favorite involved social involvements. “My favorite memory at WMU is when I was in the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) and we took a tour of Detroit Metro’s Delta TechOps facility,” she recalls. “It led to me completing an internship in the fall and helped get my foot in the door of a major airline.”

As she evolved in the WMU program, Razvi also developed a keen understanding of networking and getting involved. “I was a part of many aviation student organizations at WMU, which is a great thing to do,” she says. “I was a member of Women in Aviation - WMU, Association of Women in Aviation Maintenance, the Multi-cultural Association of Aviation Professionals (now the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals – WMU), PAMA, and the Aviation Student Council.

Razvi’s commitment to these organizations was intentional. Her insights into the industry were strong, knowing the importance of becoming an active participant. “I didn’t want to scoot by doing the bare minimum,” Razvi recalled. “I wanted to be a part of the aviation community and to make a difference. Some of the best advice I can give to future aviation students is to be a part of at least one aviation student organization at WMU, if not more.” That’s called networking with a capital “N.”

Graduating from Western Michigan University in December of 2013, Razvi set out to apply some of her own pressure on the aviation industry. Parlaying a couple of internships at Delta Tech Ops and Duncan Aviation, where she held her first job as an airframe intern, Razvi soon matriculated to the Big Leagues, becoming an aircraft mechanic at American Airlines. Razvi smiles thinking about what she loves about the career. “I get to learn new things every day,” she says. “Every aircraft that comes in can have a completely different problem than the last, but the fun part is trying to figure it out. The reward is when I can confidently sign it off in the morning and everyone is happy.”

Simi Razvi working for American Airlines as an aviation maintenance technicianHowever, there are a few thorns in the rosey world of aviation maintenance technology. Two are the weather and schedule. “I work outside at night, regardless of the weather. If there’s a wind chill of -6 and there’s a tire that needs to be changed, that’s when Under Armour and hand warmers are your best friends.”

Those few negatives are significantly outweighed by the positives. Not only does the career provide the cognitive stimulation and problem solving Razvi desires, she also gets to do some pretty cool things. “Currently my best memory is when I got qualified on taxiing the Airbus A320,” she says. “We joke about being ground pilots: we taxi the aircraft around the airport, but we can’t take off. There’s so much to learn about an aircraft when you experience it from the cockpit while running the engines or taxiing. I am now qualified to run/taxi the Airbus A319/320/321 and Embraer E190 fleet.”

Airframe and powerplant technician, Simi Razvi on vacation with her boyfriend in Bermuda

Razvi is now living in Woodbridge, VA and working at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). The benefits of living and working there are numerous. “It’s a small hub, so everyone knows everyone,” she says. “It makes it much easier to learn and work when you have pretty much anyone to turn to for help. It’s like a family at work.”

Settling into life in the Metro D.C. area, Razvi has extended her personal family. Inaddition to spending time with her boyfriend in places such as Bermuda -- “The perks of working for an airline,” she also keeps two lovable dogs: Diesel and Viper. While aviation does dominate her life, she also knows the importance of taking a break from it periodically – she recently purchased a motorcycle. Based on her talents, you know how well that machine performs!

Razvi's two dogs, Diesel and Viper

Razvi has a clear vision of her future. “My goal is to move up the ladder into management in the field of aviation,” she says. “As a lead mechanic, I have made a lot of changes and improvements to our operation to the point where our director of maintenance in Charlotte noticed. He encouraged me to apply for the next supervisor position. I don’t want to make waves or ruffle feathers per se, but I want to make a difference so the mechanics, passengers, and management are all happy.”

Razvi has solid advice for anyone contemplating a career in aviation maintenance technology. “If you can get into a major airline early on, GO FOR IT!” she believes. “Yes, you’ll be working nights and won’t have the weekends off, but it will make your degree worth it.” However, she would be remiss if she didn’t also decree the aviation battle cry -- “NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK!” “It’s not always about what you know, it’s about who you know. Make yourself marketable. Be a part of student organizations and meet managers from airlines or aviation companies.”

Razvi with her new motorcycleReflecting on her brief time in the industry, Razvi truly advocates the importance of exploration “Figure out if you want to be in general, corporate, or commercial aviation. Even if you don’t plan on going into (aviation) management, having a degree is worth it,” she says. “Most importantly, don’t give up and always be honest in your work. There are so many routes you can take in the aviation industry. If you find one that speaks to you, you’ll never work a day in your life. The possibilities are truly endless.”

Who said being torqued off was a bad thing?

Topics: WMU Alumni, Aviation Maintenance Technology, American Airlines, Aviation Technical Operations

Mott just another typical pilot – Nicole’s journey to the Left Seat

Posted by Tom Thinnes on Wed, Jan 31, 2018 @ 08:15 AM
Capt. Nicole Mott with WMU Dean, Capt Dave Powell

The thrill of piloting is to be in command -- to be the one behind the controls, calling out directives, the one people look to for advice and guidance. This is so important to pilots that they track their time as “pilot in command.” But the command aspect goes beyond being the authoritarian behind the yoke. For some, being in command begins when individuals take control of their lives and begin charting their own destinies.

Captain Nicole Mott is one of these people. As a new captain with Envoy Air, finishing her upgrade at the end of 2017, Mott has embarked on the next phase of her career. Charting her course from the time she was a junior in high school, Mott has navigated herself from point A to point B – all with one driving purpose: to fly airplanes and work for a major airline.

Capt. Nicole Mott - Western Michigan University Aviation GraduateMott was destined to be a WMU Bronco. Growing up with two WMU alumni as parents tends to result in some slight brainwashing (but only a little bit!). From her earliest memories, she remembers dressing up in her Bronco cheerleading outfit and attending WMU football and basketball games. However, it was another early adolescence experience that proved to be life-changing. Mott recalls, “My first experience with flying was when I was young. A family friend owned a Cessna and took me for a ride. Apparently, that flight must have stuck with me all these years!” To the young child, it was just a cool day in an airplane. For the future Captain Mott, it was the planted seed just waiting for the day it could bloom.

Before graduating from Parchment High School in 2009, Mott had spent some time contemplating careers. Even though she fondly recalled that experience in the Cessna, the thoughts of an aviation career weren’t part of the conversation. However, that all changed her senior year. “My high school participated in a program called EFE, or Education for Employment,” Mott said. “One of the programs offered a focus on aviation, I applied and got selected to participate. I was hoping to gain a little more insight about becoming a pilot."

During the summer of 2008, she attended the Aviation Summer Camp at Western Michigan University. “That was probably the first time I remember being at the controls of an aircraft,” remembered Mott. “The experience really provided me the opportunity to understand what it takes to become a pilot.” In addition to gaining valuable insight in relation to aviation, she also gained the invaluable lesson of networking within the industry. “I met a number of flight instructors at the camp as well as made some very good friends, many of whom I’m still in contact with today,” stated Mott. From then on, she knew: aviation was what she wanted. The seed that was planted all of those years earlier was beginning to grow.

Before finishing high school, Mott jumped in and took control. Knowing she wanted to become a professional pilot, her first step was to obtain her private pilot's license. Learning to fly was exhilarating, providing many lasting memories. “One of my favorite memories?” thought Mott.  “My first solo out of Allegan Airport. It was really windy that day and winds were favoring the grass strip, so I soloed off of that. What an amazing feeling to be alone in a plane for the first time.”

Pilot Nicole Mott and Family at Envoy AirGraduating from high school meant taking the next step. For the offspring of two great Bronco alumni, Mott originally found herself at a different college pursuing her aviation dream. However, the “Force is Strong” in Broncoland and Mott found herself transferring back to WMU at the beginning of her sophomore year. (Thanks Tim and Annie Mott!) For Mott, looking back on the decision, it just made sense, “Throughout my time at Western Michigan, I made many friends, flew top-of-the-line aircraft and received a quality education that got me to where I am now.”

WMU gave Mott many great memories. “I had a long cross country to Niagara Falls in the Piper Seminole. I took my mom and grandma. We flew there, had a little while to look around and see the falls. We then flew to Cleveland where we were able to meet up with my brother for dinner. Then flew back to the College of Aviation, all in the same day.” However, she would be remiss if she didn’t mention her study-abroad program and experience in China, her time as a member of Alpha Eta Rho, and the many life-long friends made at the University. “But, I can’t forget,” she exulted, “the cross-country flight we would make to Midway Airport for Chicago pizza!”

As a female in a world that has been predominantly dominated by males, Mott soon learned the importance of strong female leadership and mentors. “Lori Brown was one of my favorite professors,” said Mott, “not only because she is an excellent mentor in and outside of the classroom, she is also a leader in this industry.” The influence of Professor Brown would have a direct impact on how Mott engaged the industry later in her career. Understanding the importance of mentoring and connection, Mott would soon emulate the lessons learned through her interactions with Brown.

Having decidedly taken control of her career path, Mott wasn’t done yet. As she closed in on her graduation from Western Michigan University and the Lee Honors College with a degree in aviation flight science and a minor in Chinese, Mott “Grabbed the Reins” and obtained her certified flight instructor rating. “I knew I had to have it. As a pilot, we all have to build hours,” she said. “For me, the best way to do that was to teach others to fly.” Mott spent her remaining time at WMU working as a CFI and finishing her degree, graduating December of 2012.

Pilot Nicole Mott as a First Officer with Envoy AirIt was now time to grab that yoke and take control. Having spent most of her life in the Kalamazoo, Mich., area, Mott packed her bags and headed to Dallas, Texas, where she continued to instruct at a local flight school. In June of 2014, Mott was hired by Envoy Air as a pipeline instructor (a program that allows CFIs to get hired while building flight hours). However, she soon eclipsed the magic number all WMU flight students covet – 1,000 hours! It was her time to make the next move. The seed planted all those years ago had been nurtured and was ready to blossom.   She entered first officer training in September of 2014, and soon after she experienced another one of her memorable moments: her first flight as a commercial airline pilot! Thinking back, she recalled, “It’s crazy to think a pilot’s actual first flight behind the controls are with 65 people in the back. All of whom have no idea it's your first time!”

As a first officer, Mott started flying the CRJ-700 out of New York. She then transitioned to the E-145 in Dallas. Having just upgraded to captain, she is now flying the Embrear 175 and is based out of Chicago. “It's amazing that no matter where I travel to,” she stated, “I always run into many Western Michigan grads everywhere I go!

With a fondness of travel, Mott has seized the perks of the job, leveraging them to her benefit. Said Mott, “The journey from my very first flight until now has been absolutely amazing and I could not be happier with the path that I chose. I get to travel all over the world and see things that only a pilot would be able to see. The views truly never get old!” She also continues to be very active traveling the country when not commanding an aircraft. Recently, she has traveled around Europe, Peru, and all over the United States. She also has had the honor of flying around Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band!

However, everything in life is balance. For all of the positives, there are challenges. “The biggest challenge about my job is the schedule,” said Mott. “It's not a normal 9-to-5 job with weekends and holidays off. It's extra difficult during the holiday season because I'm not able to be with my family.” Even with the challenges, Mott wouldn’t “trade it for anything,” she said. “The best thing about my job is that I get paid to see the country and literally have the world at my fingertips when not working. I've seen some amazing views from the flight deck!”

WMU Henry Hall Aviation Student Move-InUnderstanding the pros and cons, Mott sees the opportunity to spread the wealth of knowledge she has gained during her time in the industry. Part of that includes outreach to the WMU College of Aviation. “I love coming back and seeing old faces at the CoA and meeting new ones too,” stated Mott. “I enjoy helping people just entering the industry. When I started, it would have been awesome to know more people at the commercial level, getting an understanding of what to do and what to expect.” Putting her money where her mouth is, Mott has been a familiar face around the campus. “I want to try to encourage more people to be a part of aviation because it's one of the best jobs out there.”

Although Mott has commanded her career into the left seat at Envoy Air, she isn’t done yet.  Her long-term goal is to fly for a major airline.  As an Envoy Air pilot she is well suited for a position with American. Tentatively, she is scheduled to flow-through to American Airlines by early 2021.  But let's face it, while she will enjoy every minute in the right seat, she wants to control those big birds at American. It is only a matter of time before we see Captain Mott at American Airlines. While it may be a cliché, Mott easily proves, the Sky is the Limit!

Topics: WMU Alumni, Next Generation of Aviation Professionals, American Airlines, Pilot Jobs, Envoy Air

Grayson’s Anatomy – the Parts and Pieces of a Professional Pilot

Posted by Tom Thinnes on Thu, Aug 03, 2017 @ 12:20 PM

“I've never known an industry that can get into people's blood the way aviation does,” stated Robert Six, founder of Continental Airlines. For Monique Grayson, her first infusion occurred at the age of 12, when she took her first flight to San Francisco with her family. Little did the young girl from Kalamazoo, Michigan realize how this initial aviation experience would direct and change her life.

2017 Grayson, Monique - Cirrus.jpg

From this initial experience, young Grayson was hooked. “I was extremely curious to know how the heavy aircraft, along with the passengers, fuel, and bags were going to defy gravity for four hours and land safely at our destination,” she recalled. Knowing that pixie dust was the fictional invention of J.M. Barrie and his cast of characters in Neverland, Grayson’s interest in flight was grounded in reality. She wanted to know what made planes work and who was responsible for operating them. Looking back at that time, Grayson remembers thinking, “When I realized who was in charge of us defying gravity, I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do that!’”

As a student at Kalamazoo Central High School, Grayson was a day late and a dollar short for one of the most life changing declarations in high school history: the announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise. This scholarship pays up to 100% of tuition at any of Michigan’s colleges or universities for any graduating student from a Kalamazoo Public School. Graduating from Kalamazoo Central in 2006, the Giant alumna was a year too early for the scholarship. While this may have derailed and detoured some students, Grayson was not deterred. With a clear determination about her future, she buckled down and focused her attention on her main goal: becoming a professional pilot.

2017 Grayson, Monique - Captain.jpg

Enrolling at in the fall of 2006, Grayson began her quest towards the goal of being the person “in charge of defying gravity.” However, like many students who choose to pursue the dream of aviation, the journey consisted of many successes and memories, but also a few challenges. Looking back, Grayson remembered some of her firsts. “My first time taxiing an airplane,” she said, “I was so nervous. But, taxiing evolved into flying, which gave me confidence to solo.” As many new pilots recall, the progressive nature of flying soon leads to the best part – operating the stick and actually controlling the aircraft. “My second solo was the most memorable,” remembered Grayson. “My flight instructor, Brandon Jones, caught me off guard at Sturgis Airport. He hopped out of the plane at the end of the runway and let me go.” And away she would go!

2017 Grayson, Monique - La Sagrada Familia.jpgGrayson took advantage of her time at WMU. Not only did she leverage the ability to pursue an aviation degree, she also embraced the many opportunities offered by a full service university. Understanding the global nature of aviation, and the importance of diversifying a resume, Grayson chose to double major in aviation flight science and Spanish. Additionally, she took advantage of one of the many study abroad opportunities offered at WMU and traveled abroad for a semester. While most aviation students fondly remember events associated with airplanes at their alma mater, Grayson’s memory is very clear, “Hands down, studying abroad in Spain was my greatest memory” at Western.

On top of the memories she garnered at WMU, Grayson also fondly remembers a number of the faculty and staff who assisted her during her tenure at the University. When asked about a favorite faculty or staff member, Grayson replied, “Oh boy! There are so many!” However, after a short contemplation, she began rattling off several familiar names, “(Jim) Whittles! I loved his way of teaching. Dominic Nicolai was a tough cookie, but he ensured that you knew your material. Rob Bunday and Tom McLaughlin were my biggest supporters throughout the entire process. Tom Thinnes was super supportive of me (and a fellow Kalamazoo Central Maroon Giant!). Linda Dillon always had encouraging words.   RoseElla P. Lyke was my confidant. Aletta Roebuck! She was the sweetest woman ever and was such an encouragement to me. Beth Seiler – awesome support. Gil Sinclair … gotta love that guy. Last but not least, Tom Grossman had my best interest at heart.”

2017 Grayson, Monique - Delta FO.jpgA story in aviation wouldn’t be a story without some challenges. Grayson was not immune to these either. As a WMU College of Aviation student who attended prior to the advent of the aviation shuttle service, transportation was a challenge for the young co-ed. “The biggest challenge that I faced was lack of transportation in college,” stated Grayson. “It was difficult to complete my private pilot rating because of my inability to get to flight lessons.” Even after the transportation issue was fixed, Grayson faced other obstacles. “There were times when I doubted if this was the career for me. Once I was able to show up consistently for training, I would then run out of money. I’d take two steps forward and end up three steps backward. I honestly felt like this wasn’t the career for me.”

However, with a determination to persevere, Grayson continued her lessons, and kept moving forward - regardless of the inevitable few setbacks. Although the shadow of doubt would occasionally creep in, she knew what she wanted, “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I stuck with it. And, because I didn’t throw in the towel, I’m living my dream.”

2017 Grayson, Monique - Delta.jpg

Graduating with the double major from Western Michigan University in 2010, Grayson set out in the pursuit of her dream. Since earning the title of WMU Alumna, she has worked hard toward her goal of becoming a professional pilot. She was a first officer at Endeavor Air, then moved to Compass Airlines where she started as a first officer and soon upgraded to captain. Thinking back to those times, Grayson fondly recalls, “Getting my first job at an airline was memorable, as well as upgrading to captain at Compass.” Currently, Grayson is a first officer at Delta Air Lines.

With the ascent to Delta Air Lines, Grayson has begun to think of her next steps. “Honestly, I want to reach back and help the next generation. I also want to do more than fly the line at Delta. There are so many great opportunities here. Who knows what I’ll get into.”


Topics: WMU Alumni, Delta Airlines, Endeavor Air, Compass Airlines

Patrick Allen’s Airline Education - an “intern-tastic experience at United Airlines

Posted by Tom Thinnes on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 @ 02:25 PM


2017 United Experience - Allen, Patrick 02.jpg"Hey Patrick! Apply for this internship. If you get it, drop your classes and push your graduation date by seven months." This was, essentially, what my uncle said to me when he tried to “sell” me on the United Airlines internship. He is a first officer on the 737 for United Airlines and has been my mentor ever since I showed an interest in aviation. During his “sales pitch,” he droned on and on about the internship’s benefits – eventually, his words of wisdom convinced me and I applied. I decided the networking and experience gained from this position would be something I couldn't pass up. So, I put a pause on instructing and building flight hours back at Western Michigan University and threw my hat into the ring. I went through the interview process and received my top choice of a base: The chief pilot's office at O'Hare International Airport. I finished up my summer of teaching at WMU, packed my bags, and moved back home with Mom and Dad ... time to take the garbage out again!

My first day finally arrives in Chicago O’Hare. I'm escorted through security and shown to my desk. The office looks like the set of Mad Men just without the cigarette smoke and bottles of booze. Probably a good idea considering this is a major airline ... but then again landings do get scary and pilots need to calm their nerves somehow. I'm on a tangent, back to the story.

To my surprise, my desk is directly outside the chief pilot's office. This was made worse by the fact my desk’s placement was in such a spot that he couldn't go in or out of his office without both of us making awkward eye contact. Soon, I'm introduced to Bo, the chief pilot, and all the other flight managers and staff throughout the office. For the most part, I was working with captains and first officers who have years of experience at United and thousands of hours in the air. Needless to say it was intimidating. Did I mention the last plane I flew before leaving WMU was a Cessna 150?

Everyone working in the office was welcoming and interested in where I went to school. It genuinely felt they wanted to get to know me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, these day-to-day interactions with the pilots would provide me the biggest lesson I learned at United Airlines: Pilots, regardless of their experience, are just people. They enjoy talking about recent flights, how they started flying, and what they did last weekend, just as much as everyone else. Throughout the internship, one particular employee, who I encountered constantly, really drove that lesson home. His name? Oscar Munoz. The actual CEO of United Airlines in the flesh!

During my first encounter with him, I was star-struck. All interns were invited downtown Chicago to the United Airlines World Headquarters. On the 27th floor of the Willis Tower (which all true Chicagoans know as the Sears Tower), we had the privilege of sitting in on a ceremony where first officers were being promoted to captains. I remember thinking, "I cannot wait to be in their shoes one day." Never have I been so clear on where I wanted to be in life.

Mr. Munoz came in, addressed the “new” captains, and even said some words to us lowly interns. Having done my homework, I knew his reputation and what he had done for United. However, the one thing in particular that stood out to me about him: he was amazingly humble. Munoz arrived at United Airlines about a year ago, and in that time he flipped the company culture, had a heart attack, then returned to work motivated as ever to make United Airlines the best airline in the world.

2017 United Experience - Allen, Patrick 03.jpgAfter that first meeting, I crossed paths numerously with the CEO. Some involved him stopping in Flight Ops at O'Hare as he traveled for business. Other “meetings” occurred while traveling with his family. My favorite run-in was just before Thanksgiving. He stopped in the office before boarding his flight and said “Hi” to the pilots and staff. He even took the time to shake my hand and ask what I was doing for Thanksgiving. As he walked away, I said, "Have a nice trip." He immediately responded, "You too!" This caused him to stop in his tracks, turn around, and laugh out loud, "You aren't traveling ... have good holiday!" Even CEOs have those awkward moments we're all afraid to have with baristas, movie-ticket takers, or in his case, interns.

I could dive into detail about how I was able to sit in, and be heavily involved, on a company-wide, emergency-crash-simulation exercise. Or the times I walked up to gates with flight managers to discuss with the crew if an airplane should be accepted or not because of maintenance issues. I could explain the projects I worked on, and the real nitty-gritty of my day-to-day tasks. And yes, the stereotype of interns making coffee runs is true. I could share how all interns took trips and toured both GE Aviation and the Boeing factory – with both offering incredible hands-on learning. All of those moments and experiences led to an overall amazing internship and accumulating a vast amount of knowledge.

However, there are two stories in particular that I would like to share that relate to my career aspirations. Ever since I wanted to fly, I knew it had to be for a major airline. These trips I'm about to describe solidified that fact in my mind and made me so excited to see what the future holds for me.

One of the biggest perks for being an intern at United Airlines is the ability to jumpseat. We are allowed two jump seats during our time at United: one domestic and one international. As I mentioned earlier, my uncle flies the 737, so of course I wanted one of my “rides” to be with him. When he received his November schedule, he recommended I come along on the DCA turn he had one Thursday morning.

I arrived to O’Hare Airport around 5:30 a.m. just as the Chicago Cubs were pulling away. It seemed as if every airport emergency-response vehicle was spraying the buses with water, blasting their sirens and waking up the entire airport. Go Cubbies! Thinking how could my day get better, I met my uncle in flight planning and he introduced me to the captain for our trip. Roger was an experienced captain with a calm, laid-back personality. The three of us walked to the airplane and the two pilots starting talking me through the procedures to get the airplane ready for flight. My uncle's hands danced over the endless amount of buttons necessary to complete the long list of tasks: starting the APUs, programming the FMS, and tuning the radios, just to name a few.

The weather offered a quarter-mile visibility and 200-foot ceilings as we taxied to the runway on the grey fall morning. The plane rolled onto the runway and the thrust levers came forward. We were pushed back in our seats as the 737 accelerated down the runway. "V1, V2, Rotate." The plane leaped off the runway and climbed almost instantly into the low cloud deck. A few minutes later, we were up at cruise, sipping on coffee, and heading to Washington, D.C. With business taken care of, we settled into a little conversation. Of course, we talked about the Cubs win! But the two pilots also shared stories of their kids, and Roger inquired about WMU and my plan after graduation.

As we approached Reagan National Airport, the captain and first officer started receiving updated weather information and loading the approach they expected into the airport. As my uncle had hoped, we were told to do the river-visual approach. This approach requires the pilots to simply follow the Potomac River, turning on the final approach when the plane gets approximately a mile from the runway. The captain proceeded to tell me, "There is a prohibited area to the left of the river and another one to the right of the river. Fly into either one, and we get shot down! This should be fun."

As soon as we started the approach and descended, I quickly understood why the areas were prohibited. To the right was the Pentagon, while to the left was the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building. Both of those national treasures seemed no more than a mile or two from our flight path. I was soaking in the sights (and looking for missiles coming our way), but also intently listening and watching how the two pilots worked as a crew. The two were a well-oiled machine calling for flaps, gear, and anything else they needed to safely complete the flight. The captain rolled it onto the runway and we taxied to our gate. The passengers disembarked and we spent some more time getting to know each other before the flight home.

By the time we returned to Chicago, the low ceilings and fog had moved away and we had a gorgeous view of the city. I walked back into flight ops buzzing with energy: what an incredible morning! Being able to experience firsthand what I was working toward really confirmed, "This is what I want to do." The flight showed me the light at the end of the flight-training tunnel. It was at that moment I knew the path I was on would take me where my career was going to end up. It is exactly where I want to be.

2017 United Experience - Allen, Patrick 01-1.jpgAll of the interns work Monday through Friday, but on the weekends the world became our backyard. For some crazy reason, United Airlines had decided interns deserve travel benefits. If there was an open seat on any flight, we could fill it. I was able to visit San Francisco, Chile, and Germany. These trips were short but did a good job simulating what layovers felt like. Of all the trips I took, Frankfurt stands out as the best.

On a certain Friday afternoon, I arrived at O’Hare a couple of hours before it was time to board. I went to Flight Ops, said “Hi” to those in the office, and burned some time before I needed to be at the gate. While in the office, I met the crew who would be flying us to Germany. The first officer was on his IOE so the captain for the flight was a line-check airman. This meant instead of the usual three, we had four pilots on board the flight. I was traveling with two interns who were based downtown at the world headquarters. Every Friday they raced to the airport to catch their flight after work and that day was no exception; they made it on the flight with three minutes to spare. We settled into our seats and tried to get as comfy as we could for our eight-hour journey.

We exited the big 777 around 9 a.m. Frankfurt time and hopped on the crew bus with the pilots. I had never visited Europe before, so my eyes were glued to the window staring at the “strange, other side of the world.” OK, it isn't that strange! They just have weird money and funny accents. The other interns and I checked into our room and spent the afternoon on the top floor of our hotel lounging by the indoor pool in the hotel spa. We all felt very fortunate to be there and kept joking that no college internship should come with the benefits we had.

We met the crew downstairs around 5 p.m. and they bought a few rounds of delicious German beer and took us out for dinner. In true German fashion, we had schnitzel and more beer (of course). Dinner was full of laughs with the “wise” old pilots giving us young interns sage advice. After a relaxing afternoon/evening in Germany, we headed back to hotel. The same crew that flew us there was flying us home bright and early the next morning. We exchanged phone numbers and I still see guys from that crew around Flight Ops. We always have a good laugh about the great time we had in Germany.

Experiences like the one I had in Germany are not something every intern gets. I consider myself very fortunate meeting the fantastic crew and being able to gain firsthand knowledge of a typical airline layover. As with the jump-seat experience, the international weekend trip showed me one of the potential places my career can take. The life of a pilot is more than just flying; it also included a combination of the people you work with and the places you'll visit.

Like most pilots, I have a very romanticized idea of the career I want. My aspirations have always been to be in control of a multi-ton machine, flying through the air to exotic destinations, while also gaining the opportunity to see the world. Seeing my uncle and Captain Roger work together like old friends provided me excellent role models on what good CRM looks like. The "exotic" destination in my story was Frankfurt, but still lived up to the fantasy in my head of what pilots do on trips. Even the small things like seeing the crews brief in the flight-planning area was something I coveted. I may sound like a broken record, but throughout my internship at United there were countless amount of times I thought to myself "I cannot wait to wear that uniform." After having this experience, I can confidently say this has been the best 16 weeks of "school," even though it’s not fair to call it that. I know in five years I'm going to be looking back and wishing to do it all over again. With the motivation to make it back to United, it's time to kick it into high gear, build my hours, and graduate.

Topics: Internships, Flight Schools, United Airlines, Pilot Jobs

State of the WMU College of Aviation Address

Posted by Tom Thinnes on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 @ 03:27 PM

Powell_Dave_-_Aviation.jpgHappy New Year to our aviation family and friends! Now is the time of year when I like to reach out to our partners, alumni, advisory board members, and friends to share with you updates from the institution, as well as invite feedback you may have.



2016 - WMU Punta Gorda 01.jpgFor the last couple of years, we’ve been reporting on our expansion efforts in Punta Gorda, FL. As of today, being led by WMU’s Extended University Programs, the college is awaiting approval from the Higher Learning Commission to begin training pilots seeking a degree in our Aviation Flight Science program. In addition to the flight students and new to this annual report, we have partnered with Florida SouthWestern State College to share space for delivery of our Aviation Management and Operations program, in addition to academic classes for the Aviation Flight Science program. We are seeking an articulation agreement with this institution as FSW OfficialLogo_Icon.jpgwell, and they will be delivering an aviation maintenance program, with the hopes that the A&P students would transfer to WMU to complete their four-year degree.

We will continue to update you on our efforts in Florida, however, if you have questions, suggestions, ideas or concerns, please feel free to reach out to me directly at, or (269) 964-6653.


2016 Oshkosh Staff Picture.jpgMr. Tom Thinnes and his amazing recruitment and outreach staff have once again increased our enrollment this year. The headcount for aviation during the fall semester reached 916 aviation majors and 21 aviation minors. Tom, Eric Epplett, and their team of student ambassadors continue to move mountains while introducing youth across the country to aviation and Western Michigan University. Their tireless efforts are reflected in enrollment numbers not just in our college, but in other areas of the University they have recruited for while on the road.

In addition to recruiting students, Tom and his team have revamped and rolled out the new website for the college and continue to find new ways to market the college in an ever-changing world. They host job shadowing events for high schools students, conduct several summer camps each year, and keep our alumni informed and engaged. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date with happenings at the college.

Tom and Eric are true ambassadors for the entire institution and they continue to be two of the most hard working and talented professionals at WMU.


2016 Recognition Dinner - EID Award.jpgOn Friday, Dec. 9, the college presented Excellence in Diversity awards to Mr. Greg Lyman and Mr. Randall Rochon for their impact on diversity in aviation, commitment to community, and contributions to engagement of incoming youth into the industry.

2016 Recognition Dinner - Sky Broncos.jpgThe 1947 Sky Bronco National Championship Team, the 1948 Sky Bronco National Championship team, and Mr. Bill Hatfield were also inducted into Hall of Honor for their excellence in the industry, exemplary contributions to their profession, and service to the University and college.

2016 Recognition Dinner - Hatfield.jpgThe college also recognized the previous recipients of both awards and the numerous generous donors of established scholarships. The event was well attended by just over 100 people, including 50 students who enjoyed the event at no cost, due to the generosity of some faculty and staff members who sponsored their participation at the event. We hope to grow this annual event each year and invite everyone to consider attending so we may all celebrate our accomplishments together.

You will see information for all of our Hall of Honor inductees and Excellence in Diversity recipients on our website in the very near future. We also hope to include photos from this exciting event.


A previous report to you noted our position on the University Capital Outlay list for a new building at the college. If you’ve not heard, we’ve been given the go ahead to begin the process for expanding and renovating the Aviation Education Center. The expansion will include a 51,000 square foot addition and renovations to the current structure, totaling 67,000 square foot building upon completion. We’re in the early stages of reviewing architectural proposals now, but it is forecasted that we will break ground about a year from now.

We’re responsible to raise funds for a portion of the project and are currently developing donor opportunities for those who wish to be a part of, and contribute to, this exciting project. If you’ve got some ideas, I’d welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Make a Gift


The  format has been recently updated and transferring information is still a work in progress. We continue to make changes every day and plan to have the site fully completed in the next week or two.


I’d like to take a moment to recognize the faculty and staff of the college who, on daily basis, make signification contributions that benefit our students, our college, and WMU. They are dedicated, hard-working, and committed to excellence in aviation education. Many go above and beyond their assigned responsibilities and exhibit effective teamwork across the college and University.

Additionally, we are so grateful for the unwavering support of our advisory board members, numerous partners, corporate leaders, and friends of the WMU College of Aviation. Without your interest in our efforts to remain in the forefront of collegiate aviation, we would not be where we are today. We welcome your comments and questions, so please reach out to me at any time.

Best regards,

Captain Dave Powell

Topics: Building Project, State of the College, Florida Expansion

An Aviation Retrospective by WMU Alumnus George Siggins

Posted by Tom Thinnes on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 @ 03:27 PM

I have read with interest stories of WMU students from the College of Aviation and their movement through their career. Most seem to be those who graduated with a degree and became professional pilots. I thought that my story might show that there are other paths available with a degree from WMU College of Aviation.

Like many, I started out with the goal of being an Air Force pilot. After graduating in 1962 with a degree in Air Transportation and trying numerous times, I was never able to pass the pilot eye exam and entered the Air Force as a transportation officer. During seven years of service, I was involved in many transportation activities: beginning with shipping household goods, to being a transportation squadron commander, to running a motor pool and maintenance shop in Korea and finally commanding a detachment involved in training aircrews in aerial delivery of supplies and equipment from C-130 aircraft. I am sure that my degree in Air Transportation from Western Michigan University had a lot to do with giving me a chance to be involved in these activities.

Delta_Air_Lines_Logo.jpgAfter the Air Force, I joined Delta Air Lines. My first job was in a department involved in the design and development of Delta facilities and terminal buildings. Since I had no experience in that area, I am sure that my WMU classes and leadership experience in the Air Force played a big part in getting the job. During this time, several new terminals were being developed and I had the opportunity to play a leadership role in an airline committee that designed and developed a major terminal expansion at the Cincinnati, Ohio airport. This included working with architects and contractors as well as airline operation departments, finance departments and ramp management.

Four years of this gave me the experience to move to a new department called properties. It is the responsibility of the properties department to be the Delta contact at airports the company services. This includes negotiating with the airport operator regarding charges for the airline use of the airport. In addition, we addressed operational issues, insured adequate operating facilities were available and that the airline was represented in issues regarding local political concerns.Download the Aviation Management and Operations  Career Guide

During this time, I continued my interest in flying and obtained commercial and instrument ratings. Although I continued to fly, I did not actively seek employment due to economic reality and the fact that my job was very interesting and challenging.  

After 25 years with Delta, I decided to move into the consulting field. At that time, I became a consultant for the airlines that served Miami International Airport and acted as their representative for ten years. In that role, I assisted in rates and charge negotiations, maintained the relationship between the airport and its customer airlines and interacted with the Miami Dade political structure. I retired completely in 2004

My reason for briefly relating my career is to assist WMU Aviation students and other students interested in aviation that there are other career paths available beyond the pilot option. I did not realize this while in school.

Topics: WMU Alumni, aviation management, Delta Airlines

Why I chose to Flight Instruct at Western Michigan University - By: Phil McCain

Posted by WMU Aviation on Tue, Sep 27, 2016 @ 11:29 AM

Western Michigan University College of Aviation has developed a reputation in the industry of producing professional pilots that are highly sought after and consistently top performers in airlines and corporate aviation departments.

2016_McCain.jpgThe current aviation industry is thirsty for as many pilots as possible. With the majors retiring record amounts of pilots who are aging out this is a wonderful time to enter the industry and begin an amazing career (Reference Delta Air Lines mandatory retirements over the next decade). These numbers are very similar to the other legacy carriers and major cargo airlines.

2018: 377 2019: 471 2020: 566
2021: 772 2022: 830 2023: 790
2024: 791 2025: 711 2026: 608
2027: 513 2028: 507 2029: 511

   Source: Airline Pilot Central

There is however, a misconception, about the hiring practices by airlines. Some things I have heard over the last few years include: “Oh, Airline XYZ, they’ll hire anyone with a pulse” “They really need us, so don’t worry about the training”   “The examiners will pass you because they’re hurting for pilots right now.”

These kind of comments are hurtful and detrimental towards the professionals in this industry and flat out wrong. It is hurtful to the pilots who have strived hard to achieve excellence in their own flying and knowledge while providing the absolute safest product and producing a positive reputation of the industry. Yes, it is true the airlines need to hire more pilots, however that does not make getting an ATP certificate easier, or operating in the complex part 121 easier or less competitive. Granted, securing an interview with the airline of your choice will be easier but having proper experience is the key to succeeding after passing that interview. Transitioning to a jet under part 121 or 135 is difficult, if you are not ready with strong airmanship skills and experience; failing out of an airline or corporate department will follow on your record. That is not meant to scare, but rather just make a point of the seriousness and standards demanded by this industry.  

2016_SkyWest_Tail.jpegThis is the reason I am extremely happy of my decision to instruct at Western Michigan University (WMU). My background is flight instructing CFI, CFII, MEI at WMU while completing my bachelor degree. WMU even helped pay for my education through the aviation associate position saving me upwards of $10,000 in education expenses while also having full health benefits. During my time at WMU I signed off 23 students for checkrides, and served as a check instructor for many more. I am currently flying the CRJ 200/700/900 for SkyWest Airlines which is the nation’s largest regional airline operating flights for Delta, American, United and Alaska. I would be remiss not to highly recommend SkyWest Airlines to anyone reading this. We have a unique operation including being a non-union organization partnering with four major airlines and rapidly expanding, taking on deliveries of multiple new Embraer 175 aircraft every month while currently operating the largest CRJ fleet servicing over 200 destinations. Our pilots are in great position to build time rapidly with the most base choices of any U.S. airline.

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So, why is WMU such a successful place to begin your professional aviation career? WMU operates in many ways identical to a small airline. We insist that our students operate the technically advanced fleet in a similar manner to how the professionals at the airlines conduct their operations. This makes the transition into a 70 seat, Mach .80 cruising, 80,000 pound jet with complex systems much easier than the transition from Cessna 150/172 flying with basic avionics. Our part 141 program familiarizes instructors with managing the highly regulated environment and the instructors are trained extensively on the Cirrus and Seminole aircraft and company operations. Our SOPs are similar to that of the airline where the aircraft is legally required to be operated within limits of all ops specs and SOPs precisely every flight.

Speaking with training managers and instructors at SkyWest Airlines the most successful new pilots in training are former flight instructors who taught on technically advanced aircraft with extensive glass, autopilot, and instrument experience operating in a highly controlled and standardized environment.

At WMU instructing in the instrument and commercial courses I gained over 35 hours of actual instrument time and much more simulated with the rapidly changing weather condition in Michigan facing icing conditions, approaches to minimums, thunderstorm avoidance, and operations in some of the country’s busiest airspace including Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and many other airports all the way down to Southern Florida at our satellite campus in Punta Gorda, FL ( After a couple hundred hours, frankly there is little piloting benefit of teaching only private students in the practice area in good weather, it does not further develop an instructors skills. Many instructors who move down south for bulk hours miss out on the variety of flight experience. At WMU, instructors become instrument pros performing literally hundreds and hundreds of approaches, holds, and operations in busy airspace. The familiarity of instrument procedures and confidence gained from monitoring student pilots increases situational awareness and teaches the instructor to stay ahead of the aircraft. Staying ahead is vital when the procedures stay the same but it all happens five times faster.

The rush for hours is understandable, however it should never be done in a way that compromises safety. At WMU there will be no pressure to complete a flight when weather or maintenance is in question. The airline is absolutely no place to mess with flying an unsafe aircraft or cavalier attitudes towards safety. The fleet of Cirrus and Seminole aircraft is very well maintained and there is a strong culture of safety including the safety management system, essentially another thing very similar to what is conducted in the airlines. At WMU, I always was given as many students as I wanted, with more ready whenever I had capacity, allowing me to build hours at a pace that worked best for me while maintaining the quality of life desired.

The opportunities to grow as a professional pilot, benefits provided by the company, and experience gained from operating in the ever changing weather and complex airspace surrounding Southwest Michigan makes WMU the ideal place to begin an aviation career as professional pilot. I am very satisfied with my decision to teach at WMU, especially after going through the rigorous initial training at SkyWest and seeing the various experiences of other new pilots and the benefit of possessing the experience I earned at WMU. There can be quicker ways to build hours, but consider the importance of quality and depth of experience which directly translates into future success for the rest of your professional aviation career and after this consideration take a look at how instructing at WMU can be a great career move.

Topics: Alaska Airlines, SkyWest, WMU Alumni, Flight Schools, Delta Airlines, Flight Instructor, American Airlines, Flight training

Climbing Higher - Mark Brady's Aviation Journey from WMU to IFL

Posted by Tom Thinnes on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 @ 09:30 AM

“The desire to reach the sky runs very deep in the human psyche” according to the famous Argentine American architect César Pelli. While Pelli was referring to the desire of our species to build taller and taller structures, his thoughts have significant applications to the world of aviation. From the beginning of powered flight in 1903, humans have continued to look and push upwards. For WMU College of Aviation Alumnus Mark Brady, this desire was innate. Based on his pedigree, Brady was destined to take to the sky.

WMU Alumni Captain Mark Brady in the cockpit of his 727Growing up in Clarkston, MI, Brady was surrounded by influential relatives who had chosen to pursue careers in aviation. Not only was his grandfather a corporate pilot, his father was in corporate aviation while his mother was in air traffic control.   Adding icing to the cake, his uncle originally worked as a pilot for Northwest and is now at Delta.

Thinking back to that time, Brady recalls, “The first time my mom took me flying I was 7 years old. I loved pushing buttons and figuring out what everything did, as well as the view from the plane. I was hooked! So for me it was never really a question in my mind what I wanted to be when I grew up.” The desire to reach the sky was definitely planted deep into Brady’s soul. “It was never a question. I always wanted to be a pilot. Aviation was in my blood.”

In addition to being surrounded by pilots and other aviation professionals, Brady was also heavily influenced by another Aviation Bronco – his father. “Yep. My dad also graduated from the aviation program at Western Michigan University.” When it came time for Brady to pick a place to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot, this factored into the equation. “The fact my dad was an alumnus had a big impact on my decision. Between my dad’s alumni connection and WMU being the right distance away, it was a no-brainer to apply to the University and pursue my quest of becoming a professional pilot.”

Much like everything in this world, timing has an impact. No matter the vantage point, timing can act as the “Perfect Storm” - sometimes offering positive outcomes, while other times offering significant challenges. Graduating from high school in 2006, Brady was unaware of the storm brewing in the distant as he enrolled at WMU in the fall. During his tenure at Western, the aviation industry was hit hard. When he graduated in 2009 with his degree in aviation flight science, the storm had fully engulfed the industry. Without sugar coating anything, it was a bleak time.

WMU Alumni Captain Mark Brady with his Boeing 727As Brady recalls, “When I graduated from the College of Aviation, there was very little hiring happening in the aviation field. I was working at the College of Aviation for the Line Services department and made the decision to continue my education by taking some computer science classes. I choose to do this so I could keep my ‘student job’ as a line person at the campus. I moved back to Clarkston, MI after finishing my computer science classes in May 2010. During this time, I began working on my flight instructor certificates (CFI/CFII/MEI) at the Kalamazoo Airport. When I moved back to the east side of the state, I had to drive back and forth from Clarkston to Kalamazoo a few times a week.”

With the flight instructor certificates under his belt, Brady was confident a flight job would fall into his lap. Unfortunately, the storm was still building. With certificates in hand, Brady remembers, “I went looking for a flight instructor job at the Pontiac Airport. The hard truth - no one was hiring flight instructors.” As the old saying goes, “desperate times require desperate measures.” Eating a little bit of humble pie, but knowing what he needed to do, Brady began applying for any position at an airport. “One of the most challenging times for me was when I applied at Pentastar Aviation to wash airplanes. Not only was I turned down, I was told they had ‘found a more qualified candidate.’ Yep, that one hurt! Here I was a college graduate with numerous ratings, and I couldn’t get a job washing airplanes. It was pretty discouraging.”

Request InformationFortunately, Brady didn’t allow the discouragement to set in. Instead, he picked himself up by the bootstraps and moved forward. With the taste of humble pie still in his mouth, he chose to move forward. Across the street from Pentastar was the office for the IFL Group. With all of the confidence he could muster, Brady marched over to IFL and engaged in most daring “cold call” of his life. Walking in cold turkey, Brady went in and simply asked if they were hiring. Yes, he wanted to fly. But at the time, just having a job in aviation was acceptable.

“The experience of getting a job was incredibly humbling,” Brady said. “However, just having an aviation job at that time was great.” With his new job, Brady now had the ability to demonstrate his skills and why he would make a great addition to any company. Paying homage to the old saying, “All good things come to those who wait,” Brady’s wait was handsomely rewarded. After ONE incredibly long week, he was promoted to Flight Engineer on the Boeing 727 at IFL.

Regardless of the state of the industry, approximately a year-and-a-half after graduating from Western Michigan University, Brady was ready to start his professional pilot journey. “Western Michigan University helped me in my career by laying a solid foundation of knowledge and prepared me for my future as a pilot and a professional in the industry,” stated Brady. Using this as a foundation, he built upon it during his training at IFL. “I found ground school to be like a college classroom. It was structured to provide the knowledge necessary to grow and succeed in the aviation field. There are many things I am able to carry over and apply to my flying on a daily basis.”

The IFL Groups Boeing 727Much like he proved during the job search, Brady was determined to demonstrate his commitment and hard work ethic. After spending eight months as a Flight Engineer, he was promoted to First Officer. Hard work indeed paid off. As Brady remembers, “I was so excited to be flying the plane at just 250 hours total time!” As the hours continued to climb, days on the calendar began to get crossed off. “I sat in the right seat for three years and enjoyed every minute of my time. I flew with many Captains, each teaching me a lot during those three years.”

When talking to Brady, his love of flying and aviation is apparent. Not many people have the office view that he has on a regular basis. When queried on his job, without blinking an eye, Brady states, “The best part of my current job is the type of flying we do at IFL. The flying we do is often very challenging. Usually when companies need freight moved, it is in bad weather conditions, mountainous terrain, mostly at night or a combination of all three. Our crew of three in the cockpit work together as a team to make decisions regarding how to load and secure the freight, flight planning the route, and how much fuel to take. I feel it develops my aeronautical decision making skills that I wouldn’t necessarily receive in other operations. Crew Resource Management is intricately connected to everything we do.”

WMU Alumni at the IFL GroupHowever, like most people within the aviation industry, Brady expresses the other reason many enjoy their jobs so much, “People. I work with some amazing people.” In addition to himself, Brady flies and works with a lot of WMU Aviation graduates. When talking about his fellow Bronco Aviators, Brady says, “I always appreciate their knowledge level and the effort they put into the art of flying.” The IFL Group has also provided Brady with the opportunity to interact with other aviation professional who have been in the industry for a long time, many of which who have been great mentors to him.

Many of those mentors were instrumental in helping Brady ascend to his next position. After his three years as a First Officer, Brady was promoted to Captain. “I was given the opportunity to become one of the youngest Captains to fly the Boeing 727,” he said. “It is a big responsibility that I find very rewarding. I am forever grateful for the opportunities IFL has provided me with.”

As Brady took this journey down memory lane, favorite memories at WMU popped up. “One of my favorite memories at WMU,” he remembered, “was working line. It is hard to explain, but the job was a lot of fun. Not only did I get to hang around the airport, I also developed many friendships during my time at Western Michigan University.” However, no conversation about WMU Line Services could happen without mentioning Joe Guilfoyle. “Joe was great. He was a retired Army drill instructor. Everyone was terrified of him, including me. But in the end, he was a great guy and we all learned so much from him.”

WMU Alumni Captain Mark Brady on his Boeing 727As a current Captain for the IFL Group, Brady continues to look forward. His ultimate goal is to be a Captain for a major airline. However, looking back on his journey, he also offers advice for others getting into aviation. “Pursuing a degree as a professional pilot is hard work. Finding a job is work,” Brady said. “My best advice is to not get discouraged. Flight training is expensive, so it must be something you are passionate about. I’m always encouraging people to pursue the career. I don’t really view my job as work. I get to go fly a 727 around!”

Regardless of timing, Brady has navigated his time into a successful career. Much like Pelli’s statement, Brady’s desire to go higher is firmly ingrained in him. He attributes his success to his love of flying and the inspiration his parents continue to give him. As Brady says, “My parents are great role models and the inspiration driving me to be the best I can be, while pushing my desire for continued learning and growth. I of course need to give credit where credit is due: my flight instructors at the College of Aviation and IFL.” 

Topics: WMU Alumni, jobs, aviation training, IFL, Pilot Jobs

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