CHARLESTON, S.C. (courtesy charlestonsouthern.edu) — On Thursday, August 12, Charleston Southern University and CRAFT Flight Training hosted the CSU Aeronautics Liftoff ribbon-cutting event to officially kick off the university’s new Professional Pilot degree program. The event was hosted at Summerville Airport with representatives from CSU, CRAFT, Boeing, and the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as community members and elected officials.
“We are very excited that by virtue of this aeronautics program we get to live our calling—that is to prepare servant leaders to pursue significant lives,” President Dr. Dondi Costin said. “What we get to do at Charleston Southern is help people understand what their passion is, what their purpose is, and now—as of today—if their passion is flying, whether it be as a commercial airline pilot, or a military pilot, or a missionary pilot—they will be able to do that after graduating from Charleston Southern.”
The program began in response to the market’s need of pilots as many are retiring in the next few years. A Boeing study forecasted more than 700,000 commercial pilots will be needed over the next 20 years. Though the idea and plans for an aeronautics program formed pre-pandemic, no one anticipated the even greater need for pilots after COVID-19’s negative impacts on the industry. Many commercial airlines encouraged pilots to take early retirement during the pandemic to cut expenses. The Air Force also struggles to fill jobs—an issue for combat operations.
With a hopeful goal of 12 students in their first year, Colonel Christopher “C.J.” Will said CSU soared to roaring heights with 34 inbound students plus a hefty waitlist. The inaugural class is more than one-third female and close to 20% people of color.
The decorated U.S. Air Force veteran is the founding program director and no stranger to aeronautics. Will is a combat Command Pilot, military instructor pilot, and holds FAA Airline Transport Pilot, Commercial Pilot, Flight Instructor (Single and Multi-Engine) and Remote Pilot Operator certifications and ratings. He holds a Juris Doctorate from SMU Dedman School of Law and served as a Judge Advocate (JAG) for the Air Force prior to earning his wings. Will also practiced as an aviation attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, served as the Commander of The Citadel’s AFROTC program, and taught at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Will shared his excitement in how this program will open new doors of opportunity to youth who have never considered flight as a vocation. “Our goal is to introduce a new perspective to students. And teaching them not just about the world that they live in, but how they fit into that world. There is no better vehicle for that than aviation,” Will said. “With aviation, you place a young man or young woman [in the pilot seat] who may not have ever been in an airplane before—and I’ve seen it before. It’s powerful. It’s transformational.”
CSU’s Aeronautics Program is one of only three FAA pilot schools in the state of South Carolina, and is the only program in the state where a student can simultaneously learn to be a pilot and earn a bachelor’s degree. Flight training will be conducted at Summerville Airport in partnership with CRAFT. Students will fly in Diamond DA-20, DA-40 and DA-42 aircraft, as well as study various topics such as aircraft operations, safety, aerodynamics and meteorology. The program is academically accredited, FAA Part 141-certified and an institutional member of the Aviation Accreditation Board, International (AABI). Learn more about it at charlestonsouthern.edu/aeronautics.