$5 million investment to transform BG Flight Center
BGSU Aviation, BG Flight Center take steps to meet current, future student and workforce needs
By Pete Fairbairn
The BGSU Aviation program and Bowling Green Flight Center are on the rise, with a $5 million investment in new aircraft, state-of-the-art flight simulators, and expansion of the BG Flight Center that will more than double its flight operations, classroom and office space this coming spring.
This significant expansion and investment were prompted by BGSU Aviation's ongoing success, which has led to the program outgrowing current BG Flight Center spaces.
Program growth and surging demand
The current facility, which was opened in 2015, features 9,500 square feet of flight operations, classroom and office space, along with an 8,000-square-foot maintenance hangar. The north hangar adds about 12,000 square feet for storage of BGSU’s fleet of mostly Piper aircraft.
This was more than ample to accommodate BGSU Aviation as it stood back in the fall of 2014, with 114 students served by around 20 employees and a fleet of nine aircraft. Today, that number has grown to 18 aircraft, 355 students and nearly 70 full- and part-time employees, including over 40 flight instructors.
That dramatic growth is looking to continue at even higher levels, fueled by rapidly increasing industry demand. According to Aviation Program Director Michael Ferguson, the airline industry — and aviation as a whole — has rebounded after the downturn brought about by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“The airline industry experienced a rather precipitous downturn due to the pandemic, but pilot hiring and aviation hiring across the board is skyrocketing,” Ferguson said. “There is a tremendous demand for qualified pilots, especially within the regional airline industry, and that helped fuel the decision to build additional capacity and add important technologies like the new jet simulator to best position our students for employment opportunities.”
Investing in student success
The BG Flight Center has embarked on a comprehensive infrastructure upgrade that involves an investment of more than $5 million in 2021 and 2022. Melissa Webb, who serves as the general manager of the BG Flight Center, pointed to how BGSU’s partner, North Star Aviation, is stepping up to the current and future needs of BGSU Aviation and its students.
“The company has a great commitment to our students as far as having the most updated facilities and equipment for them to receive their ground, simulator and flight training,” Webb said. “This new investment in our fleet, our facility and our technologies is all about delivering the best possible training experience to our students.”
The flight operations facility currently under construction will provide BGSU Aviation students with an all-inclusive training area, with more than 11,000 square feet that will be home to the flight operations dispatch center, examination rooms, flight instruction team and significantly larger simulator rooms.
Chief Flight Instructor Catherine Smith has been part of the BGSU Aviation program for nearly 20 years. She has witnessed the evolution and growth that was vastly accelerated as a result of the public-private partnership forged with the BG Flight Center in 2015, and she sees this new phase of investment in the program’s infrastructure as a crucial turning point.
“Our new flight operations facility will provide a professional learning environment for BGSU Aviation students while they are receiving their FAA-approved ground, flight and simulator training,” Smith said. “The new flight operations center will provide an excellent environment for students to complete their pre-flight planning, obtain weather briefings, complete performance calculations and brief with their flight instructor.”
The new space will also allow for additional flight simulator purchases as BGSU and the BG Flight Center look to support future increases in student training demands. The current facility, which is just six years old, will be utilized for classroom instructional spaces, FAA knowledge testing, and administrative office and student space.
Advanced training fleet and supporting technologies
BGSU Aviation students enjoy one of the most advanced training fleets among college programs, primarily composed of factory-new Piper aircraft. This has resulted in minimizing downtime due to the maintenance issues that come with older aircraft – and especially training aircraft facing continuous, hard use. In addition, most of the aircraft are equipped with technologically advanced avionics rather than analog cockpit instrumentation. Bryan Combs, marketing and safety manager at the BG Flight Center, pointed to the benefits of this technology.
“A big focus of why we’re investing in new aircraft is to provide a modernized fleet, which enhances safety for our students in the training environment” Combs said.
Notably, a twin-engine Piper Seminole aircraft has been added to the fleet this year, and two more single engine Piper Archers are arriving in spring 2022, for a total estimated investment of $1.5 million.
Smith pointed to the significance of the new flight operation center’s larger simulator rooms that will house flight simulation training devices, including a state-of-the-art CRJ 700 jet simulator by L3 Harris.
“Our new jet simulator will allow students to ‘bridge the gap’ between their flight experiences in flight training and the industry they will enter after graduation, providing them the foundation in advanced jet operations and crew coordination,” Smith said. “It will set BGSU Aviation students apart from many other flight training programs, allowing our students to be more prepared for the next step they take in their aviation careers.”
Taking the best of BG and making it better
According to Smith, one of BGSU Aviation’s biggest assets from the very beginning was a strong sense of community. Entering into a public-private partnership with just any company could have jeopardized that sense of community, but partnering with the BG Flight Center has only made it stronger. The partnership has allowed BGSU to respond to student needs in light of ever-increasing industry demand.
“Our partnership with the Bowling Green Flight Center has exceeded our expectations,” Ferguson said. “They provide a very high quality of flight training education for our students, and this new infrastructure investment will only make this already-stellar program better, providing our students with everything they need to succeed in the aviation industry.”