New aviation program is beginning to soar at CWU - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

New aviation program is beginning to soar at CWU

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ELLENSBURG, WA - Aviation has a long history of being part of Washington's core economy, and that's creating a lot of excitement at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

It's the only public university in the northwest with an aviation program.

This morning at Bowers Field in Ellensburg, CWU was celebrating a huge milestone for the program. For the first time in school history, the aviation program is going to run its own flight school.

And it could not come at a better time, because of the looming problem of pilot shortages across the country.

CWU Aviation will now be able to train student pilots under their own license after getting "Part 141" certification from the FAA. But that's just the beginning.

This morning, CWU showed off their fleet of new Piper Archers air crafts.

According to the university president, Dr. James Gaudino, CWU Aviation is a high-cost, high-risk program...but pilots are aging out of the cockpit at an alarming rate. So when flights are canceled because they don't have anyone to fly them, the routes that will be taking the hit are in small communities like Tri-Cities and Yakima. This is just one reason why CWU is all in with their aviation program.

"Alaska needs more. Delta needs more. American needs more," said Dr. Gaudino. "So they're going to be reaching down into what we call the regional airlines and they're going to be pulling pilots up into the majors. That's going to exacerbate that decline of the regional airport." 

And of course, the student pilots are just another group of stars of the program. There's about 50 of them who are getting training right now from a private aviation firm.

Deicoh Florentine is a senior who says aviation didn't pique her interest until late in her high school career. She knew it was something she wanted to get into after listening to stories from a friend's dad who was an air traffic controller at SeaTac in Seattle.

"I never wanted a traditional desk job, and flying allows me that freedom," Florentine said. "It allows me a challenge which is something I really value in life, and I want to find that in my occupation where things are going to be different day-to-day."

CWU hopes the five Piper Archers air craft they currently have will one day turn into ten. The university says they want the program to be built to where they know it can go. 

And just where is that?

Well, CWU hired a consultant who told them that five years from now, if the program is managed correctly, there could be 1,000 students flying at CWU.