British Invasion: NMC’s aviation program launches partnership venture to entice overseas pilots to train in TC.

TRAVERSE CITY – Northwestern Michigan College's aviation division is piloting a new program. A pilot pilot program, if you will.

The school has always had a few international students in its flight program. But now it is targeting partnerships with universities in Great Britain as the next step in its development.

Spearheading the effort is Steve Ursell, a native Briton who came here for the flight program and has stayed on as an instructor.

Ursell says NMC offers several advantages over the British system of becoming a pilot. "The facilities are a little better than in the UK," he says. He points to NMC's fleet of aircraft, including six Cessnas that are less than a year old, a couple multi-engine aircraft, a seaplane and even an aerobatic/ tailwheel aircraft. "That enables students to get experience in a variety of aircraft," he says.

Ursell also notes that by going to school in Britain and then going through the air instruction at NMC, students get valuable international experience. That can be a real plus when they try to land a job.

Finally, there is the cost and ease factor. The cost for NMC's program is less and also easier to complete than many such programs in the UK, where there are typically not flight schools attached to universities. That means that students studying for a pilot's license often have to travel long distances and work though scheduling between regular classes and their flight classes. In contrast, the program at NMC is offered during the summer break, which has always been enticing to potential students from other countries.

"The universities in the UK are very theory-based," says Aaron Cook, director of the aviation program at NMC. "But there are a lot of headaches with local flight schools, which can be 30 minutes away.

"In the U.S., schools are directly linked to the flying programs, either on their own or through a company," he says.

With all that in mind, Cook and Ursell hatched a plan to work directly with colleges in Great Britain that offer programs in aeronautical engineering. A trip to the UK showed mutual interest, and now the college is focusing on four schools in Britain: Hertfordshire University, London Metropolitan University, Liverepool University, and University of the West of England.

Four students are scheduled to attend NMC this summer, one from Leeds, one from Bristol, and two from University of the West of England.

Cook and Ursell say the opportunity is ripe for many more, and they are hoping for as many as 20 for the following class. They also say there is great potential for a true exchange program, where students from NMC could attend university in England for at least a portion of their flight schooling.

"This is taking it to the next level," says Cook. "Traditionally, community colleges haven't been real aggressive (about programming), they've been focused on serving the communities. But NMC isn't a typical community college. The aviation, maritime, culinary and nursing programs are pretty robust."

"An exchange program would enable United States students to go the university in the UK," says Ursell. "This would give students another option."

Graduates of the cooperative program would be able to get not only their FAA license for flying in the U.S., but their JAR license for piloting planes abroad. Cook and Ursell say that with the increased globalization of the air industry, such a plan makes sense for most anyone looking to get a pilot's license.

The program was started under an Innovation Grant from the Northwestern Michigan College Foundation, a program to foster ideas to move NMC forward.

Now Ursell and Cook say the program is poised to generate not only plaudits for the school, but more opportunities for students here and abroad.

"The world has become more global," adds Ursell. "The timing is just right." BN