Aviation department chosen as FAA affiliate member

SIU will now have some extra funds for research and growth from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA selected the university to be among 10 others in the country as an affiliate member of the administration’s Air Transportation Center for Excellence for General Aviation. The Center for Excellence is a partnership between the involved universities, the aviation industry and the federal government, which will focus on research to improve general aviation’s safety and sustainability, said David NewMyer, aviation technology department chair.

The affiliation is a 10-year agreement that will award the university $500,000 annually for the first five years, and the university must then re-apply to receive it any longer. NewMyer said the FAA’s decision to continue awarding the grant is based on the university’s progress throughout the first five years.

Bryan Weis, right, a junior from Knoxville studying aviation management and flight, conducts a “walk around” with flight instructor Melanie Murdock Friday before taking flight at the Southern Illinois Airport. Students and instructors always perform plane and equipment safety checks before takeoff.
Sarah Gardner-Daily Egyptian

“We want to make our small industry as safe as a (commercial) airline,” NewMyer said. “We will be conducting practical hands-on research that will increase sustainability.”

NewMyer said the grant will allow the university faculty and students to focus on research areas such as safety management systems applied to airports, human factors through simulations, alternative fuels and other areas geared toward improving general aviation.

Christian Padilla, a senior from Chicago studying aviation management, said he has been actively involved in the aviation and flight program for the past four years and enjoys everything his program entails.

“What other major can say that they flew to a different city in the morning and were in class that night?” Padilla said.

He said the program has been great for him and he is happy the department is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

“Everyone involved in the program works hard and it feels good to finally get recognized on a national level,” Padilla said.

Professor Jose Ruiz has been an aviation and flight instructor for 17 years and said the grant will allow for research enhancements.

“To be given a grant of that amount is pretty darn impressive, so we hope to use it to work towards obtaining the safest system possible,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said the FAA hopes to reduce general aviation accidents and fatalities by 10 percent over the next 10 years. FAA leaders hope they can all work together to improve safety by affiliating with 10 universities and awarding a 10-year grant agreement, Ruiz said.

“Safety is the most important factor,” he said. “While we want to improve all aspects of general aviation, we want safety and sustainability to be number one.”

The aviation department will open the new Transportation Education Center on Friday, which NewMyer said is something everyone in the program is highly anticipating.

“It’s just great that we would be granted this award during the same time as the grand opening of the new transportation center,” NewMyer said.

Ruiz said he thought the plan for the new building was just a dream at one point because he didn’t believe the state had enough money to fund it.

“We have a great hands-on curriculum, and we hope to become a premiere aviation institution,” he said.

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