Why is MTSU moving its flight training program?
Our flight training program started shortly after World War II, and it began on a landing strip located near the center of the current main campus. Seventy years ago, the program moved to the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport (KMBT), where it has resided ever since. The Murfreesboro Municipal Airport has been a wonderful home for our program over the past couple of generations, providing a modern, well-maintained home that has allowed us to grow to our current size. MTSU is currently the largest customer at Murfreesboro Municipal Airport, responsible for approximately 70% of airport operations.
Our Aerospace B.S. program currently enrolls over 1,200 students, most of whom (nearly 900) are in the Professional Pilot concentration. Our fleet logs more than 5,000 flight hours in peak months during the semester. The student demand for flight time puts a strain on our current fleet of 34 aircraft, and we have placed an order for 10 additional aircraft to provide the instructional resources our students need. With student demand for the program at an all-time high and a continuing nationwide shortage of new pilots and aerospace professionals, therefore MTSU must relocate Aerospace Department and its flight training program in order to expand.
The City of Murfreesboro forestalled further expansion of our program at Murfreesboro Municipal Airport, citing the impact of our activity on other customers based there. So, in response, we have identified a new home at the Bomar Field/Shelbyville Municipal Airport (KSYI). Advantages of the Shelbyville Airport include its size and surroundings. At 600-plus acres, the airport property is nearly three times larger than the Murfreesboro Airport.
Moreover, the land surrounding the airport is largely open and is zoned for industrial and agricultural use. The City of Shelbyville and Bedford County have been enthusiastic in their welcome, and they have made a commitment to responsible planning that will keep homes and schools from being developed immediately adjacent to the airport. We believe this relocation will be beneficial to all parties involved.
What’s the status of the project?
In October 2021, we submitted a capital funds request to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. They endorsed our proposal, identifying it as their No. 1 priority capital project. On the strength of that endorsement, Gov. Bill Lee included $57.2 million in his FY22-23 budget request to construct a new MTSU Aerospace campus at Shelbyville Municipal Airport, and on April 21, 2022, the General Assembly voted to approve the budget.
As a condition of the award, MTSU will need to raise an additional $5M in matching funds to supplement the state funds, bringing the project total to $62.2M. With these funds, the university hopes to begin to rapidly begin the transition of some flight training activities to Shelbyville.
When will the move happen?
It is hoped that by the end of the 2022 calendar year, the 10 new training aircraft will all be operating out of Shelbyville. However, it will take much longer to complete the move.
Design of the new Aerospace campus, which will include hangars, classrooms, offices and runway space, is expected to last about one year, and ground-breaking may occur in late summer or fall of 2023. It is anticipated that the new facilities may be complete in late 2025. Until that eventual completion date, we expect that most of our flight training and all of our other educational programs will continue to be based in Murfreesboro.
What challenges remain?
While the relocation project opens excellent possibilities for our program, it will also pose some challenges. Throughout this relocation project, our primary focus will be minimizing any disruptions to student progress toward graduation. One of the most pressing challenges is the distance between the future Aerospace campus and the main MTSU campus.
We are working to develop plans to minimize the time our students and faculty will spend traveling between these locations. We intend to explore a combination of strategies to allow our Aerospace students to complete as much academic work as possible in Shelbyville. Possible strategies include the use of remote learning technologies, the offering of some general studies courses to our Aerospace students in Shelbyville, and the use of a regularly scheduled shuttle to transport students to and from the main campus.