BANGOR — Pending final accreditation, the University of Maine at Augusta will begin offering a bachelor’s degree in aviation this fall.
The program, approved by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees on Monday, is a partnership with Maine Instrument Flight, the flight school at the Augusta State Airport. Graduates will earn a bachelor of science degree and four Federal Aviation Administration certifications.
Although UMA’s pitch to the board focused largely on the looming demand for pilots, Maine Instrument Flight owner Bill Perry said the new program will also open doors to careers in air traffic control and aviation management.
“It’s not just to be a pilot; it’s a degree in aviation,” Perry said. “That could spin off to all kinds of career paths. You have a college degree, too, so no matter what you want to do in life, you have that degree behind you.”
The application period begins in March for the 12 seats available this fall. The program will cost $222 per credit hour, with 120 hours required, for a total cost of about $26,600. For people who already have a pilot’s license, UMA will also offer a bachelor of applied science degree.
Because the program includes a bachelor’s degree, it will be easier for students to apply G.I. Bill benefits and other financial aid than if they attended just flight school, UMA Provost Joseph Szakas said.
UMA will create four new aviation courses: history, law, security and an aviation capstone course. Students also will take general education courses, physics, meteorology and business and management courses. Maine Instrument Flight will provide pilot ground classes and flight instruction.
Creating an aviation program from scratch would be prohibitively expensive for a university, making the partnership with Maine Instrument Flight especially valuable, UMA President Allyson Handley said.
UMA in March will present the program to the regional accreditation agency, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Handley said.
“We see this as a real employment and educational opportunity for Maine citizens,” she said Monday.
UMA and Maine Instrument Flight began discussions more than two years ago. Perry said he approached the university because he knew demand for pilots was soon to rise.
Last year, Boeing projected a need for 460,000 new pilots by 2031, including 69,000 in North America.
The demand is expected to be driven by the growth of airline and corporate fleets and the graying of today’s workforce.
“I think the opportunity for a student coming out of this is pretty great,” Perry said. “The demand is on their side. The curve is definitely favoring the employee in this case.”
American commercial pilots have a mandatory retirement age of 65, and the FAA pegged the average age of commercial and private pilots in the mid- to late-40s in 2011.
The military has traditionally been a significant source of commercial pilots, but many of the pilots who received training and accumulated hours of flight experience in the military during the Vietnam War era are at or near retirement age.
The military has shrunk in recent decades and turned more of its attention to unmanned aircraft, Perry noted.
Coming out of flight school, new pilots need to build experience to meet the requirements of regional and national airlines. They frequently get hours by working as flight instructors or flying night cargo runs, Perry said.
Jobs with airlines tend to be clustered around population centers — something Maine is short on — but Perry said there are opportunities in places like Portland and Boston.
According to the Air Line Pilots Association, International, most airline pilots begin their careers earning about $20,000 a year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median annual wage for commercial pilots was $67,500 in 2010.
Susan McMillan — 621-5645