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Going Public: SEMO's Professional Pilot Program Continues to Soar

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Miranda Sullivan
Dan Woods
Miranda Sullivan

We recently spoke with Miranda Sullivan, Director of Aviation and Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering and Technology at Southeast Missouri State University about SEMO's Professional Pilot Program.

Dan: So we're going to talk about the aviation program which is now a year old.

Miranda: Yes, sir. Just started in fall of 2021. And we're already a year in.

Dan: I can't believe it. I know we talked about a year ago about this time. So we started with 36 students in the first class how are we doing? How's the growth looking?

Miranda: We're about 50 to 62. There's a couple that are just kind of floating out there, but we've grown, we've doubled in size in just about a year. So it's super exciting.

Dan: And there's the potential for more growth and I read somewhere there's there's a talk of hiring some more instructors or faculty.

Miranda: Yes, exactly. We have two faculty positions open at this time. So we're very excited to get those filled and kind of get this program keep it rolling in the in the right direction.

Dan: Because you'd like some help.

Miranda: I would definitely love some help.

Dan: Give us a sense of the program itself because I know one of the things we talked about this a year ago. It's unique in that students get into the sky pretty early in this program, right?

Miranda: Yes, definitely. So we get students up in the air their first semester we try and make it be their first class, class time but you know, sometimes it doesn't work out with paperwork and that kind of stuff. But yeah, we like to get students up there in the air flying and get really integrated into that flight program so they can really get that experience from the start.

Dan: Last time we talked about this if I were a student, I think I'd be a little nervous about getting into the sky that quickly...

Miranda: I think some are a little bit but they have a flight instructor right there with them the whole time. So just like those driving-ed cars, they have the secondary foot pedals and all that fun stuff. Our airplanes have dual flight controls. So it's really nice instructor can take over at any point in time if they need to. And the students can feel safe and secure knowing that there was somebody that knows what they're doing.

Dan: You were recently promoted to director of aviation in addition to teaching so what does it mean if you're at now being director of aviation?

Miranda: Yeah, so as director of aviation, I'll be a liaison between our partner US Aviation and the university. I also help with some student retention, student engagement, kind of recruitment efforts, that kind of stuff and just overall day to day program running.

Dan: There's going to be a need for pilots there is now but tell us give us an idea of the growth of this industry and commercial pilots and how many are going to be needed and that type of thing?

Miranda: Now is the perfect time to be getting involved in aviation. If somebody is not sure they've always kind of had that bug or they you know, really like airplanes. Now is the time to get involved with aviation in general.

There's a pilot shortage going on. They do not have enough pilots to fill the spots in the airlines. You know, the majors the regionals, cargo, flight schools, anywhere they don't have enough pilots, because with that pilot shortage taking place, the mandatory retirement age in the airlines is 65. So if they have all these pilots that are of that age, starting to retire and nobody coming up to replace them, they're gonna start pulling them up from the regionals into the major airlines, and they're gonna pull them up from the flight schools to the regionals, which means there's fewer and fewer pilots. You know, so we need to fill that gap.

SEMO is here to help provide some of those pilots to fill that gap by getting our students the necessary training, putting up quality aviators so not just quantity, we're not just pushing out the numbers. We want students that are really going to fill that gap but not just be a body in that gap. We want somebody that's gonna stand out and really provide a good experience in the jobs that they're going to be in.

Dan: So I would imagine the pandemic forced some retirements, maybe that hadn't reached that 65 year age limit yet. So that coupled with the age-out there's, it's really caused a real problem.

Miranda: It has caused a real real problem there and the industry they've got you know, they offered incentives for some, you know, higher level captains to retire a little bit early. And now they're really hurting from that, you know, they're seeing, okay, well, that was a short term fix to the COVID problem they were having. But now there's the long term fix of well, we don't have enough pilots to really fill those spots and keep those airplanes flying.

Dan: So if there are some students listening or even some non traditional folks who are interested in learning how to fly what do they need to do? They need to reach out to SEMO and apply to the program. Definitely feel free to email me at msullivan@semo.edu and we can get them started on the path to success to becoming a an awesome aviator.

More about the program.

Dan is a 1994 graduate of Southeast Missouri State University. He majored in radio and minored in political science. He spent three of his four years at Southeast working as a student announcer at KRCU – the beginning of his radio career.
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