Psychologists have said that one of the most common dreams people have is about flying. There is something in the psyche that wants to disconnect from the bonds of gravity and soar freely among the clouds. This may have been the feeling, coupled with the love of learning and teaching, that George J. Falk of Averett University (AU) had when he urged the university to develop its own aeronautics program back in 1981.
Danville is a relatively small market, but the city has made a strategic and purposeful investment in transportation infrastructure that includes The Danville Regional Airport. Since its opening in 1944, the airport has continued operations in support of commercial, military, and private aviation. According to Jennifer Freeze, assistant chief flight instructor at AU, the college initiated a minor in Business Administration/Aviation Management in 1981. For over 40 years, the AU program continued to grow, paralleling the growth of the airport, and in 1991 the Averett University George J. Falk Flight Center opened. Today the center utilizes approximately 15,000 square feet of space at the airport for offices, a full-motion flight simulator and ground schools, supporting about 130 students and providing hangar space for 12 aircraft.
Averett continued to demonstrate its commitment to the Aeronautics Program and Danville when it became the airport’s Fixed Based Operator (FBO) in 2021. Cassie Jones, assistant vice president of Strategic Communications at AU, said, “The FBO, named AU Aviation Services, has exceeded all projections, and serves as a fully-integrated, hands-on learning lab for our aeronautics students, of which we have more than 100 who currently learn the business of aviation and undergo in-flight training in Averett’s flight center at the airport.” She added that the aeronautics program is the third largest program at AU this year.
Visitors to the newly-renovated Danville Airport should also visit the George J. Falk Flight Center, just next door to the main terminal. When I first visited, I was impressed by the ratio of flight instructors to students. Travis Williams, a graduate of the AU Aeronautics program, has served for 18 years as the chief flight instructor, overseeing 16 flight instructors and the program. He and Jennifer Freeze teach the ground school and the aerospace and aviation courses, along with providing flight instruction and certification training. One of the distinguishing qualities of the AU Aeronautics program is that students get to fly from day one. It is a tight-knit group and not unlike a sports team that shows off its trophies. The AU teams and individuals have consistently placed high and have even taken first place in National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) competitions. From navigation and short-field landing events to IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) simulator events, AU has successfully competed against larger schools.
There is a close relationship with AU alumni as well. Freeze said, “Our students are able to meet our alumni early, helping to foster the relationship they may need when looking for job opportunities.”
AU Aeronautics graduates are working as pilots all over the globe. They have gone on to fly for domestic and foreign commercial airlines, as well as multinational corporations. Due to the projected retirement of over 15,000 pilots that forecasts a pilot shortage, AU Aeronautics is strategically poised to support pilot and related aerospace career education over the next five years.
AU offers pilot certifications in single and multi-engine aircraft, along with flight instructor certifications and a multitude of other courses, including some unknown to most of us. Not everyone who has a degree in aeronautics is a pilot. Some of the lesser-known areas of aeronautics education offered at Averett are Airport Planning and Design, Aviation Security Operations, and Law Enforcement. A complete list can be found in the AU course catalog. Visit the school’s website at https://www.averett.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/undergraduate/aeronautics/ to learn more about the programs offered.
On the most recent “Aviation Day” in March of 2023, alumni currently working in the aviation industry returned to the university. Averett President Dr. Tiffany M. Franks told them, “You are the real testament to the extraordinary strength of our program.”
According to Jones, there is a good mix of students from regional, national, and international destinations, with a majority coming from the Bahamas. Averett also allows cadets from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham the opportunity for dual enrollment into AU’s aeronautics program to create a seamless path into college. Danville Community College also announced a partnership with AU to develop a training program for aviation maintenance mechanics.
From Aviation Open Houses and the Aviation Expo in Northern Virginia, to hosting the Pathways Flight Academy every summer, AU is keeping up the momentum through support and communication to ensure continued growth and success for the program.
Because of aviation, the world is indeed getting smaller. Traversing hundreds of miles to go to work or viewing an area from an airborne perspective has truly changed the way we think and respond to things. It is no longer only a dream for many of us to be able to fly higher and farther, especially with resources like the Averett University Aeronautics Program.
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