June 15, 2011

Aviation program adds air traffic control minor

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Students who are interested in air traffic control can now minor in the field through Southern Illinois University Carbondale's aviation program.
The Air Traffic Control (ATC) minor will offer students more detailed instruction and hands-on experience than air traffic control courses already available in the program, said David A. NewMyer, chair of the Department of Aviation Management and Flight. The program will also feature $650,000 in new ATC tower and simulation equipment.
SIUC will be the only public university in the state to offer the minor, NewMyer said.
The minor is part of the Aviation Management program and is set to begin in August. NewMyer, however, anticipates the bulk of the instruction will start with the fall 2012 semester once equipment and the 230,000-square-foot Transportation Education Center is in place at Southern Illinois Airport.
Terry A. Owens, interim dean of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, said the ATC minor is possible due to two factors: dedicated laboratory space to house new simulator equipment, and the fortune of bringing together “the required faculty numbers and expertise to support the curriculum.”
“The ATC minor will enhance an already nationally recognized aviation program,” Owens said.
The 12-hour offering “completes our program,” said Samuel R. Pavel, an assistant professor in aviation management, who with associate professor José R. Ruiz, will teach the bulk of the air traffic control courses.
Students will receive training in a laboratory environment for both tower and en route air traffic controlling positions. In addition, aviation students who are flying in simulators will be able to integrate in real time with the ATC simulator and air traffic controllers.
“This is a major step forward because it allows us to get into an area where we are preparing students specifically for another area of certification in aviation,” NewMyer said.
The courses will prepare students for another aviation career option -- through the Federal Aviation Administration Academy in Oklahoma City. Students accepted at the academy go through a rigorous three- to four-year regimen prior to becoming certified air traffic controllers. NewMyer anticipates the FAA will again open the academy in one-and-one-half to two years due to the need for more air traffic controllers and projected retirements of current controllers.
“I think this is where we are going to have a niche,” Pavel said. “The way you get hired now is you need to have something to make you stand apart from someone else.”
Pavel also believes the minor will be attractive to students not only in the aviation program, but to those in other majors such as computer science. Many jobs are available in the air traffic control simulation field, and the FAA needs people who know how to write code and understand the air traffic system, he said.
NewMyer anticipates the additional minor could mean an enrollment “bump” of 10 to 12 students.
The ATC minor and simulation equipment will make SIUC more appealing and competitive among collegiate aviation programs, Ruiz said.
“When you consider the visual impact that the simulation equipment will have on parents and the students, we anticipate it will have a significant effect on recruiting more students,” Ruiz said. “The visual appeal of this 270-degree simulated environment that replicates an air traffic control tower will be breathtaking. The radar equipment is state-of-the-art and extremely realistic.”
With a solid, competitive aviation program and the Transportation Education Center, Ruiz believes that with continued efforts SIUC can become the “aviation mecca of the Midwest.”
Prior to coming to SIUC two years ago, Pavel, a licensed private pilot, was a certified air traffic controller in Elkhart, Ind., and also on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where he was an assistant adjust professor of economics. He was also an air traffic controller for the FAA at the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center in Longmont, Colo., and Tri-Cities Air Traffic Control Tower/Terminal Radar Approach Control (ATCT/TRACON) in Pasco, Wash.
Ruiz, who will become a professor July 1, has been with SIUC since 1995. During his 20-year career with the U.S. Air Force, Ruiz was an air traffic controller, a commissioned air traffic officer, and a communications officer. He also has a commercial pilot certificate.