A local university is being recognized for its growing in-house aviation pilot program. The program is one of just a few universities in the nation that offer pilot training.
Texas Southern University's Aviation school has been recognized for its in-house aviation program by the American Accreditation Board International (AABI). TSU is the fourth historically Black college or university (HBCU) to receive the accreditation, joining 43 other aviation programs across the world.
"The aviation program at TSU has experienced an upward trajectory for many years, and this prestigious accreditation is a major step in accelerating future progress," said interim president Dr. Mary Evans Sias in a statement. "The result is an affirmation of what we have known to be true: the aviation program at Texas Southern University is one of the best in the nation. We want airlines to know that when hiring pilots, TSU prepares and produces future pilots to be competitive in the aviation industry."
The pilot program launched five years ago and has grown its curriculum, enrollment, and partnerships. The program didn't have any airplanes or flight instructors. Terence Fontaine, the programs Executive Director said he knew TSU had the potential to be in the same category as other great programs.
"We decided if we’re gonna be nationally recognized as a great aviation program, along with the Purdues of the world, and the Embry Riddles of the world – we needed to have the same accreditation that those guys have and that is the ABBI," he said.
Fontaine said many factors contribute to a program’s accreditation. He said inspections of the planes were done, interviews with students, a tour of the campus, and the pilot programs office space. The pilot program is also a Federal Aviation Administration Part 141 pilot school.
"The FAA has agreed with our curriculum, they’ve agreed that we have the right airplanes, they agree we have the right instructors, they agree with the ground school that we have for pilot training, and the whole curriculum for pilot training," said Fontaine.
TSU is continuing to reach new heights by making history with its 32% enrollment increase for the fall semester.
"Four weeks from now, we’re going to have the largest enrollment in the school’s history in aviation," said Fontaine. "We’re getting the students, we’re breaking records on enrollment and retention right now – this is the first time that the pilot program is going to have more students in it than the management program."
Fontaine said its many partnerships with airlines like with Southwest, students are leaving the program with jobs upon graduation.
"We just don’t put pilots in seats at these airlines," he said. "We put our students in all types of great jobs in the airlines and airports – all of our students at Texas Southern University are commodities, and I explained that to them very early on – you are a commodity, folks will invest in you because they know that when we educate you and we train you, you’re gonna come out and be successful when you work for those airlines."
While the university is getting recognized for its pilot program, they're still struggling to keep up with maintenance costs for outdated airplanes. Fontaine said he was hoping to receive some financial support from the State of Texas.
"We’re the only AABI accredited school in Texas," he said. "So if I need $6 million or $7 million to buy a new fleet of airplanes for Texas Southern to decrease our maintenance cost to give our students the latest technology regarding the glass cockpit – I would think that would be a wise investment for the state, I would think so."
Recently, the City of Houston approved a five-year agreement between the Houston Airports and Texas Southern to build a new $5 million training facility for TSU students at Ellington Airport.
The accreditation will remain through July 31, 2028.