HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall University is another step closer to a breakthrough aviation school.

The university announced on Thursday in a release that it and Southern Utah University (SUU) have signed a Memorandum of Agreement to cooperate in exploring options to jointly offer a four-year bachelor’s degree in aviation to teach students to fly helicopters.

Marshall University

Jerome Gilbert

“We are excited to be exploring this,” Dr. Jerome Gilbert, the President of Marshall University told MetroNews. “We still have some due diligence to do to make sure we can pull this off and make it a success. We are working on that rapidly and hope to make progress every week as we move forward and communicate with Southern Utah.”

Gilbert said the agreement is meant to set forth some premises that the two sides will work under as both parties have spelled out some things that they will both agree to in working towards exploring a rotor wing program at Yeager Airport in Charleston. According to Gilbert, Yeager Airport reached out to Marshall on this possibility over a year ago.

Not only would there be the four-year rotor wing program at the Charleston airport but Gilbert said Marshall hopes to create a four-year fixed wing program and a four-year aviation management program. At a recent board meeting for the airport, Yeager Airport Director Terry Sayre hinted at the possibility of this type of announcement coming soon.

Huntington Tri-State Airport could serve as home to an aircraft maintenance and airframe and powerplant two-year programs. Gilbert said the school has been talking to Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington about those potential the two-year degrees.

Fairmont State University offers a fixed-wing program, but according to Gilbert there are no rotor wing programs in the area. The idea of a rotor wing, helicopter program came about within the last month, he said. SUU officials stopped in the area to visit Marshall on their way to Washington D.C. because of a connection with Marshall Provost Jaime Taylor.

SUU offers one of the largest rotor-wing programs in the country with around 300 students in the aviation school. Gilbert and other Marshall officials visited SUU in Cedar City, Utah this past week to look at their program and that is where the agreement was signed.

Gilbert said SUU’s rotor wing program has an average age of 25 for a student with a lot of veterans in the program. The fixed wing program looks to be more filled with traditional-aged students out of high school.

Gilbert projected around 150 students in year one for the program at Marshall and after a feasibility study done by the school at the end of 2018, the university believes they will be ready financially to accommodate the school.

“We think that we can make an initial investment in year one and then actually start recouping that investment in year five or six,” Gilbert said.

Marshall has a new program fund that has been in existence for over five years according to Gilbert, where the school will take money out of that established fund and use that to finance the new program.

Gilbert said they hope to start the program in 2021 if everything goes to plan.

“It’s going to take a year or two to get this up and running,” he said. “We are going to have to do some construction up at Yeager and Tri-State Airports. It takes about a year to order and get aircraft.”

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