TURES COLUMN: Colleges can play a role in helping keep aviation safe in America

Published 10:30 am Thursday, August 3, 2023

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By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College  and Brian Peterson, Vice-President for Academic Affairs. LaGrange College 

When we were younger, it felt like major plane crashes happened often. Many of us have stories about times they learned that a loved one was due to board an airplane, only to hear that there was a horrible plane crash happened at their airport where they took off, on the same airline they were flying on. While many air accidents are mechanical, many other accidents occur due to pilot error. That’s why today’s debate over aviation policy is so critical.

For those who are pretty young, major aviation crashes are pretty rare, so there doesn’t seem to be a problem. But for those of us old enough, we will never forget the frequent images of burned-out husks that contained the charred remains of hundreds of passengers and crew, lengthy investigations, which all seemed to show a pattern of mistakes and sometimes corners being cut.

Airline deregulation occurred back in the 1970s. You’ll find plenty of debates and evidence about the positives and negatives of the policy. Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a 1,500 hour-flight rule required for all pilots to fly, much stricter than in the United Kingdom and Europe, which require only 250 hours. Some claim that this has led to a pilot shortage in the USA, while others point out that the rule was created for a good reason, due to the Colgan Air Flight 3407 Crash outside Buffalo in 2009 that claimed 50 lives in the air and on the ground.

The Congressional debate about pilot training and safety has become quite fierce during the FAA’s reauthorization. 

Georgia Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock introduced the AIRWAYS Act, designed to improve aviation workforce development, among other bills designed to boost airport infrastructure, and not just the big ones. But is there something we can do to help would-be pilots and others in the aviation industry, without loosening safety rules?

LaGrange College has just partnered with Paragon Flight School to create an aviation program that will give students the opportunity to learn to fly while they pursue their bachelor’s degree. 

This addresses the issues within the aviation industry in two distinct, but fundamental, ways. First, students are able to progress from study for their private pilot’s license to their commercial pilot’s license while at LaGrange College. By building up their flying time over the course of their studies, they move closer to becoming qualified to work for the larger airlines. 

Second, students taking this route minor in aviation, allowing them to major in any of the programs that we offer at the college, from business to nursing to mathematics, from theatre to history to education. That aviation is not specifically tied to any individual program allows any student – literally any student – with the wherewithal to become a pilot, to actually become one. 

The combination of a bachelor’s degree with their private pilot’s license and/or their commercial pilot’s license creates a new generation of pilots for airlines who are skilled fliers who can problem solve and think critically and analytically about any situation. 

These skill sets will serve society well, whether students are content to fly themselves from one place to another or decide to fly others for a living at Delta.

The shortage of airline pilots is real, is here to stay, and isn’t going to be addressed by reducing the number of hours needed before pilots can begin flying others around the sky. But it can be addressed with innovative solutions like the one created by LaGrange College and Paragon.

By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College  and Brian Peterson, Vice-President for Academic Affairs. LaGrange College