August 22, 2012

Jose Ruiz to head national aviation association

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- José R. Ruiz, a professor in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's nationally recognized aviation management and flight program, will head the University Aviation Association beginning next month.

Ruiz will serve a one-year term as president of an organization that serves as the "voice of collegiate aviation" to its members, industry, government and the public.  Ruiz, who chairs the organization's aviation management committee, will be installed as president at the conclusion of the association's 2012 Fall Education Conference Sept. 26-28, in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

“It’s going to be a lot of work but it’s gratifying to know that you will be able to make an impact on your industry,” Ruiz said.  “There are so many people associated with the organization; certainly I’m not alone.  I’m looking forward to being involved in it.”

Ruiz is the second SIU Carbondale faculty member to serve as president in the organization’s 65-year history.  David A. NewMyer, professor and chair of aviation management and flight, was president in 2009-2010, and he nominated Ruiz this year.

“Joe is going to do a great job,” NewMyer said.  “He has the ability to deal with people.  In this kind of job you are dealing with the aviation industry, institutions, individuals, and people who provide services to the education system.”

Ruiz acknowledges that one university having two presidents of the organization in such a short time period can be considered a “statement to the rest of collegiate aviation.” The University’s long aviation history dates back to 1960 and includes eight national flight championships, the last in 2011.

“SIU is known as a school that is part of the greater circle of influence in aviation higher education,” NewMyer said, acknowledging the work of his predecessor in SIU Carbondale’s aviation program, the late Ronald D. Kelly. Kelly was heavily involved with the University Aviation Association and was the organization’s treasurer.

The organization has more than 525 members, including 105 accredited colleges and universities in the United States and Puerto Rico. The organization focuses on issues that directly impact aviation education and collegiate aviation overall, Ruiz said.

Founded in 1947, the organization also works with the aviation industry to keep collegiate aviation curriculums up to date, as well as assist its members develop professionally, said NewMyer, who has been a member for 30 years.

Ruiz, a former captain with the U.S. Air Force, came to SIU Carbondale in 1995 as an assistant professor after a 20-year military career as an air traffic controller, a commissioned air traffic control officer, and a communications officer.  He became an associate professor in 2001, and earned full professorship in July 2011.  Heavily involved in airport safety management research, Ruiz earned the E.J. and Mary C. Simon Distinguished Faculty Award in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts earlier this year.

There are now "several pressing issues" that could soon impact how colleges and universities conduct aviation education, Ruiz said.  He believes a major initiative for the organization this year will be how to address federal plans to raise minimum flight time requirements for students who plan to fly for regional airlines.  The plans are to go into effect no later than August 2013. 

The planned spike in flight time requirements stems from a February 2009 crash of a regional aircraft in New York that killed 50 people, including one person on the ground.  While pilot error was cited, the pilot and co-pilot each had more than the minimum flight hours than the new law requires.  The subsequent probe prompted an examination of minimum flight time requirements for first officers.

"We are trying to come up with ways of being able to address the need for increasing the amount of flight time but tempering it a bit with what makes sense," Ruiz said.  "What we are most likely going to be addressing this year is how do we compromise on this; can advanced classroom training serve as an equivalent for some of the flight training?"

NewMyer notes the current plan will raise the minimum flight training from 500 hours to 1,000 hours for graduates of collegiate aviation programs with specific flight instruction, which will include SIU Carbondale.  NewMyer said he would like to see the requirement lowered to 750 hours for college graduates, which is the same as for military personnel.  College graduates will earn the airline flight experience while in college and also after they graduate, he said.