Dowagiac flight school sees interest soar

Published 3:23 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2023

DOWAGIAC — A local business is taking flight education to new heights.

Foxtrot Flight Training LLC is currently accepting students for its flight education courses at the Dowagiac Municipal Airport in Dowagiac.

Founded by Matthew Harrison in June 2021, Foxtrot offers private and commercial pilot certificates, instrument rating, high performance and complex endorsements, discovery flights, flight reviews and more.

Aviation has long been a passion for Harrison, 25, who began flight education at the age of 14 after being inspired by World War II history. 

“I was definitely a nerd when it came to World War II,” he said. “You start with biplanes and you end with jets; there’s so much aviation history that goes on there. That sparked my interest.”

With more than 1,000 hours of flight experience under his belt, Harrison originally planned to fly for airlines until fate led him to education.

“Originally, I did not want to be an instructor,” he said. “I had wanted to go directly to the airlines but most airlines require 1,500 hours. I decided to get a job as a commercial flight instructor but couldn’t find one. So I decided to make my own. It was a lot more successful than anticipated.”

To date, five private pilots have graduated from the program so far. Harrison said that he currently has 32 students with room for more.

“Our students range from age 14 to 62,” he said. “From all walks of life and educational and work backgrounds. As far as the younger generation, we’ve got a few kids from Dowagiac, a handful from Brandywine high school.”

Harrison added that most of his students work full-time or in school full-time.

“For private pilot, most of our students are doing full-time jobs or school, so you’re looking at one to two times a week,” he said. “Altogether, you’re probably training for six to nine months.”

While aviation education was not part of Harrison’s original plan, he said the experience has been rewarding.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “There is a lot of thrill in sending a student up for the first time. You’ve taught this person, so it’s a test of both your skill and their skill and it’s really a team effort.”

For Harrison, the Dowagiac airport is an ideal location for his flight school.

“We’ve got a grass runway, which is really nice. Dowagiac is kind of centrally located,” he said. “We’ve been drawing people from South Bend, Niles, Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor and we’re kind of at the center of that.”
Foxtrot is training the next generation of aviators at a time where industry jobs are in high demand.

“Just like any industry, there is a need for skilled workers,” Harrison said. “With aviation, it takes a lot to get those skills and training… There are so many people retiring and not enough people coming up. We’re trying to provide the best training at the lowest price. The higher the price on aviation, the less people are going to go into it. Aviation as a whole is struggling to find new recruits. Getting the youth involved in aviation is important. 

Harrison highlighted that the aviation industry features many components found in STEM instruction.

“Aviation is STEM – it takes all of that,” he said. “There are a lot of skills that aviation hones skills that are useful in other areas.”

Foxtrot has added a fourth plane to its fleet to go along with four instructors and is in the process of renovating the old airport terminal to be used for instruction and office space. Harrison has also begun discussions with local schools to start flight training programs with them.

“We’re hoping to really hit our stride with our expansion,” he said. “We’re hoping to get a simulator in there and really make it into a proper flight school.”

The increase in interest has Harrison looking forward to the future. 

“There’s been a lot of help obviously that I’ve gotten along the way,” he said. “My parents and grandparents have helped a lot in the purchase of the first aircraft and just setting me up for the training. It takes a special set of parents to be like, yeah, 14 years old, go ahead and learn how to fly. It’s not where I expected to be, but I think it’s where I should be.”

Harrison encourages the interested to take a discovery flight at Foxtrot to gauge their interest.

“The more people exposed to aviation, the better,” he said. “There’s tons of jobs – even if you don’t want to be a pilot, there’s air traffic control, there’s mechanics, there’s dispatchers, meteorologists even come in.”

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