CONWAY, Ark. – The University of Central Arkansas is soaring into a new adventure, giving students the opportunity to jump in the cockpit and learn to fly.

On Wednesday, UCA announced the addition of its Aviation Academy at the Conway Regional Airport.

“I can’t think of any year in the last seven that I have not had constant dialogue with the Conway and central Arkansas community about the need for pilots,” UCA President Dr. Houston Davis said.

Since 2020, the pool for pilots has been thinning, as many retire or look for new career opportunities.

In a normal year, airlines will typically hire 5,000 pilots. By next year they could be hiring 18,000 according to statistics released at Wednesday’s press conference.

Davis said it has always been a dream of his to help fill this need, but he knew he couldn’t do it on his own.

The university announced a partnership with the City of Conway, Central Flying Service and the Conway Regional Airport to create an aviation program unlike any other.

“UCA has stepped out of the ordinary realm with four-year degrees,” Conway Regional Airport Director Jake Briley said.

Students who enroll in the program don’t have to be full-time students at UCA and don’t have to apply to the university itself.

“The student doesn’t have to commit to doing a full associate degree or bachelor’s degree,” said Dr. Davis.

Davis said the program will streamline into the workforce, giving students the opportunity to go straight from training into a job in aviation.

“If someone is really focused on getting their commercial pilot license and getting their appropriate ratings, we can serve them and do that in the shortest amount of time possible,” he said.

Davis said time is money and that he understands many may not want to go through a degree program. He did say that is an option, however.

Students in the program will learn everything there is to know about aviation, from simulated rides to instruction in the skies.

Applications are now available at Classes begin in March of 2024.