Home News Local News ENMU-R pilot program gets new wings

ENMU-R pilot program gets new wings

Three of the four students enrolled in an associate of science degree program for professional pilots offfered by Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell stand by the Cessna 172 SP recently leased by the university. The university last offered a professional pilot training program in cooperation with another company about a decade ago. ENMU-R also is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to introduce a commercial airline pilot program in the near future. From left are Luke Olivas of Roswell, Kaleb "Joker" Long and Nathan "Maverick" Franco. The students with handles are flying now. Olivas is working to complete ground school. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

The new professional pilot training degree program at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell has gotten off the ground a few ways this fall, but that phrase took a literal meaning a few weeks ago when the university leased a Cessna 172 SP prop plane for flight instruction.

The program has four enrolled students now, half of its capacity with one plane of eight students, but the Chief Pilot Dr. Peter Dittmer thinks the program will have 200 students within three to five years.

“We are the only university aviation program — university professional pilot program — in the state,” he said. “The program was very much needed in New Mexico. Students were having to go to Arizona or Texas to learn how to fly, so assets were leaving the state.”

Dittmer, who holds a master flight instructor and three other certificates from the National Association of Flight Instructors, used to head a pilot training program at a university in Utah that had 1,300 students a year. He came to ENMU-R to re-establish its associate degree program for pilot training, which hasn’t been offered for at least nine years, according to ENMU-R officials.

Dittmer’s involvement in the program sold at least a couple of the current students on attending ENMU-R rather than out-of-state schools.

Support Local Journalism
Subscribe to the Roswell Daily Record today.

Nathan Franco of Roswell was attending New Mexico State University to study mechanical engineering, but a chance conversation in winter 2016 with friend Luke Olivas of Roswell, now a fellow pilot training student, got Franco looking into fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a pilot.

When other universities’ tuition costs seemed high, Franco made a call to ENMU-R and learned that they would have a program running by fall 2017 and put him in touch with Dittmer.

“As it got closer to being established, I pretty much confirmed to myself that this is what I wanted to do,” Franco said, adding that he plans to complete a mechanical engineering degree at some point as well. “I moved back to Roswell. I started the ground school, got through that, and now I’m flying.”

In fact, Franco flew for the first time Wednesday as he makes his way to what he hopes one day will be a career as a commercial airline pilot, a goal shared by another ENMU-R student, Kaleb Long of Santa Fe, who says he has wanted to be a pilot since he was four. Olivas isn’t sure whether he wants to be a commercial pilot or military pilot at this point.

All three should have their private pilot licenses by January, according to Dittmer. From there, students will go on to receive their instrumental rating, then commercial license (which means that they can earn money as pilots), and then certification as flight instructors.

At that point, the students will be ready to graduate with an associate’s degree, and Dittmer said he hopes they will return to be program flight instructors while they rack up the 1,500 of flight hours needed to qualify as commercial airline pilots.

By that time, ENMU-R also could have its commercial airline pilot training program running. That planned program now awaits approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, said Dr. John Madden, ENMU-R president.

“The ultimate goal of the project is jobs,” Madden said. “There is a shortage of commercial pilots, and we intend to help fulfill that need.”

A July 2017 article in “Money” magazine reported that 637,000 new airline and cargo pilots will be needed worldwide by 2036, which translates into 87 new pilots a day. The shortage has been attributed to a few factors, including a Federal Aviation Administration mandate requiring that pilots retire at 65, a declining number of military pilots willing or available to become pilots of large commercial crafts, the shrinking numbers of people graduating from pilot programs because of the high costs, which can be as much as $50,000 a year, and the recently increased flight hours requirement for commercial airline pilots.

The industry is not without its challenges, though, with some union representatives saying that starting pay at smaller airlines can be as low as $20,000 a year and that long hours and poor working conditions are common for new pilots. According to the “Money” article, union representatives also say that competition among pilots can be fierce in certain U.S. markets.

The current ENMU-R students already have weighed some of the financial considerations as they compared various educational programs. For them, the chance to participate in what they said is affordable professional pilot training is exactly what they’ve been waiting for.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

Previous articleMan from Carlsbad admits to kidnapping and firearm charges
Next articleFive-county economic planning gets underway; Officials: Anyone can join in the long-range efforts to boost area’s quality of life
Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.