Whirlpool hosts Aviation Career Day

Published 1:15 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2023

BENTON HARBOR — More than just airplanes descended on the grounds of Southwest Michigan Regional Airport in Benton Harbor Monday.  

More than 50 students from Countryside Academy Middle/High School and Andrews University were provided with a tour of the Whirlpool corporate jet fleet.  With mechanics, pilots, a flight attendant and the many people who arrange the domestic and international flight plans, the students were given a taste of the many career opportunities awaiting them in aviation.  

Jay Godfrey was one of several tour guides leading the students through the large Whirlpool hangars and allowing them the opportunity to view the inside of the airplanes while discussing flight operations, careers and what flying means to him personally.  

Right now, is the greatest career opportunity someone has in aviation due to the worldwide pilot shortages taking place,” said Godfrey, who is one of nine Whirlpool pilots commanding the three jets used for their corporate travel, of which 70 percent encompasses international flying.  

Godfrey, a graduate of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, also mentioned the personnel shortages for skilled maintenance technicians, dispatching, air traffic control, flight attendants, mechanics, management and flight instruction.  

“If they (students) can envision themselves flying these jets worldwide someday, they may realize that a dream aviation job is not too distant in the future for them and well, mission accomplished,” Godfrey said when asked about his role in the day’s event from a pilot’s perspective. 

Fred Frazee is an instructor at Countryside Academy in Benton Harbor and accompanied his high school students on the Whirlpool tour.  Frazee also emphasized the “huge demand that exists in the aviation industry” to recruit the next generation of men and women who can fly and service these very expensive aircraft.  In 2019 Frazee, through the help of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, began offering aviation ground school classes.  

“AOPA provided a very good curriculum that engaged students and provided great learning resources,” Frazee said.  

Approximately 75 students since 2019 have taken the Career Technical Education – Aviation program at Countryside Academy, which is designed as a two-year course. For students serious about becoming a licensed pilot, these years of study and exploration and skill building will “provide an invaluable portal to a challenging and rewarding pathway,” as mentioned on the school’s website. 

“For students considering aviation related occupations like aircraft maintenance or air traffic control, the knowledge of how planes work and how they’re flown provides an introduction to these complementary vocations,” the website also mentions.  “The emphasis of this program is on the flight of both manned and unmanned aircraft. Students who complete both years successfully will have the opportunity to take the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) written exam to become a licensed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilot. Students may also choose to take the FAA private pilot written exam. The written exam is one of three tests that must be passed to become a licensed private pilot.”  

Although Countryside Academy does not currently offer flight instruction, “a goal is to one day be able to offer that training as well,” said Frazee.

Former student Paige Riley of Benton Harbor studied aviation at Countryside Academy and was among the first students enrolled in the aviation program and took the FAA written test.  She then became a licensed private pilot in April after taking flight lessons at the airport in Benton Harbor and is currently working toward an instrument rating that will provide her with more flying opportunities as she advances in her aviation career.  Riley is a recent scholarship winner of the Women in Corporate Aviation organization which helps to open opportunities for women in corporate aviation, providing a networking hub and highlighting role models and leaders in the profession. This scholarship, the Solairus Aviation Advanced Rating Scholarship, is helping her to fund her instrument rating.  Riley has a twin sister, Hannah, who also has a private pilot’s license and attended aviation class at Countryside Academy.

Riley, along with Zach Seifert, are currently paid interns working for Whirlpool and gaining valuable life experience as they work with mechanics and pilots in a professional atmosphere. Seifert is currently a Junior at Andrews University, majoring in Aviation with an emphasis in Flight and will be taking his pilot’s check ride next month in hopes of getting his private’s pilot license.  Like Riley, Seifert also has an interest in possibly becoming a mechanic along with being a pilot.  

“There are so many career opportunities in aviation,” Seifert said, “I’d like to explore most of them.”

Frazee also mentioned that there is no additional cost to the student taking the aviation class at Countryside Academy.  The Young Eagles program through the Experimental Aircraft Association offers airplane rides (not flight instruction) for students and the EAA then picks up the FAA charges for taking the written examination.  However, fuel, insurance and maintenance for the airplane donated to Countryside Academy is expensive and donations are accepted.  Stacy Howe at showe@countrysideacademy.org may be reached for donations. 

The aviation department at Andrews University operates a fleet of single-engine Piper Archers, a Piper Arrow and a Piper Seminole for flight training courses. All aircraft are professionally maintained by the departments’ FAA-certified mechanics. Andrews University’s airfield is located 1.5 miles from campus. Students wishing to enter a non-flying aviation career may limit their specialization to Aviation Maintenance.

How much do commercial pilots and mechanics earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it reported the median U.S. pilot salary at $211,790 in 2022. This means 50 percent of pilots earn more than this, and 50 percent  earn less. However, there are pilots working for major airlines making more than $700,000 per year. Many factors impact airline pilot salaries as do the private corporate salaries per company.  First Officer, Captain (6 years) and Captain (12 years) vary in compensation.  The annual compensation for an aircraft mechanic also depends on experience, and other factors, but can earn six figure salaries.