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At Southern Illinois University, They Practice What They Teach About Business Aviation

Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale’s Department of Aviation Management and Flight airplanes play two important roles. Not only do SIU officials benefit from the necessary and timesaving university charter service, but students also earn valuable flying experience on each flight.

Just as businesses focus on maximizing their use of a business aircraft, the Aviation Management and Flight Program at SIU makes sure each flight serves the best interests of the school administration, staff and students.

The school’s Cessna 340 and 421 piston twins, the only charter planes the school owns, transport university officials to other SIU campuses, the state capital at Springfield, and meetings and events from Texas to North Carolina. The planes are flown to destinations by one of the three university pilots, with the return flights flown by aviation students who earn valuable pilot-in-command hours under the watchful eye of SIU’s professional aviators.

Those return flights are part of the high-level courses available to some of the 200 students enrolled in the aviation education program at SIU. The goal is to have a student on every flight, said Dr. David NewMyer, chair of the Department of Aviation Management and Flight.

“If something doesn’t contribute to the educational mission of the university, then it’s not as valuable as something that does,” added NewMyer. “Obviously, the students have to have some credentials to go out into the industry. This exercise gives them not only the flight hours, but also the experience of flying in all kinds of weather and into a variety of airports. The course is our way to enhance their education, while making the university more efficient.”

A Necessary Mode of Transportation

Most of the aviation classes at SIU are taught in labs and hangars at the Southern Illinois Airport (MDH), which was founded in the 1950s to serve the local rural community and university. The field is owned by the Southern Illinois Airport Authority. The airlines do not have a presence near Carbondale, making MDH a valuable and necessary asset to the school. The airport is just five miles from campus, and the school’s aircraft can fly directly to airports near Springfield or St. Louis in about 45 minutes, and to Chicago in about 90 minutes.

“For a short haul, there’s nothing that’s going to beat our plane,” NewMyer says. “By saving the school administration officials a half day of traveling by car or airline, we are saving the university time and money.”

Keith Mortag, chief pilot for SIU Executive Air Transportation, says school officials fly for a variety of reasons. Between 950 and 1,200 university officials and other passengers fly on hundreds of missions each year, and students earn at least 20 hours of flight time each semester.

The biggest user of SIU’s two charter aircraft is the medical school, which uses those planes to transport doctors and nurses once a week between Carbondale and the Springfield campus. The trips constitute 40 percent of the university’s charter missions, and 90 percent of those trips are in state. In addition, SIU flies to a host of other destinations for various missions. The planes fly in support of a public affairs program administered by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute (named after the late Illinois senator), which brings in journalists, lawmakers, political figures and other speakers to lecture on a variety of policy topics.

Chief Pilot Mortag recalled a recent mission, saying, “We went to Chicago the other day with a vice president who was giving a graduation commencement address at the College of Lake County, where SIU also has a branch campus. He combined that appointment with another meeting in the area to maximize his productivity.”

The Illinois Board of Higher Education meets in Chicago once a month, and trips from Carbondale to the Windy City involve making multiple stops to pick up several university officials. “We take our people from here in Carbondale and pick up the chancellor of SIU Edwardsville, just on the Illinois side of St. Louis, along the way,” he said. “Then we take them to Chicago and bring another group of our people back that night.”

A Focus on Education and Safety

SIU offers three majors at its College of Applied Sciences and Arts: Aviation Flight, Aviation Management and Aviation Technologies. The Aviation Flight Program offers a degree that prepares students for careers as professional pilots. The program, established in 1984, is set up so that students earn their associate’s degree while working towards a bachelor of science in aviation management or aviation technologies.

Safety is a major component of the SIU Executive Air Transportation service, as well as the students’ classes. Safety best practices are the featured subject in two required courses, which focus on the importance of human factors from a safety perspective and understanding the chain of events that can lead to an aircraft incident.

The entire aviation education experience at SIU is designed to prepare students for careers in business aviation, either as flight department managers, schedulers and dispatchers, pilots or maintenance technicians.


“Not only do SIU officials benefit from the necessary and time-saving university charter service, but students also earn valuable flying experience on each flight. ”

Recent graduate Joe Samudovsky spent a summer as an intern with the flight department of Phillips Edison & Company, a commercial real estate development company with offices in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.

“We were involved with all aspects of the operation, from planning and scheduling to flying,” he said. “It was a great experience and something I definitely want to work my way back into,” he said.

Each flight consisted of two or three stops, taking staff around the country in the company’s Pilatus PC-12 and Cessna Citation II to visit its stores and facilities. “I have a lot of classmates and friends that went on to the regional airlines, but my experience was a lot different. The direct passenger involvement is closer in business aviation. I got to talk with them directly, and helped arrange for rental cars and take care of other trip details,” he said.

NewMyer said SIU has been searching for more business aviation internships for students in recent years. “There are opportunities; the question will be how will the business aviation community work with the universities to encourage and develop these pilots,” he said.