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Delta State’s Department of Commercial Aviation awarded $2 Million Agricultural Aircraft Operations Career Pathway Grant to train ag pilots

Pictured (front row, from left) are Todd Donald, vice president of workforce and economic development, Mississippi Delta Community College; Robert McCurdy, former director, Flying Tiger Aviation; Dr. Kent Wyatt, president emeritus, DSU; Mitzi Woods, South Delta Planning and Development (back row) Rob VanNamen, Agricultural Operations Manager; Phillip Krasner, Blues Air Operations Manager; Brad MacNealy, director of DSU Flight Operations; Ike Brunetti, Agricultural Operations Executive Council; Joe Saia, interim chair, DSU Aviation Department; Umesh Sanjanwala, state director, Office of Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith; Dr. E.E. Caston, interim president, DSU; Kirk Povall, Cleveland Airport Board President; Mike Chaney, Mississippi Commissioner of Insurance; Dr. Andy Novobilski, provost and vice president for academic affairs, DSU; and Lara Bowman, CEO, Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce.

CLEVELAND, Miss.— Delta State University’s Department of Commercial Aviation was recently appropriated $2 million by the United States Senate to implement an Agricultural Aircraft Operations Career Pathway (AAOCP) program in the Mississippi Delta.

Requested by U. S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, the funding will establish a partnership-based program to increase the number of safe and insurable agriculture pilots in Mississippi and potentially other approved states.  Currently, this is the only program of its kind in the state with Delta State offering the state university system’s only undergraduate and graduate aviation programs.

“An agriculture aviation education program at Delta State University will give students the opportunity to learn valuable skills that benefit both their vocational prospects as well as the economy in the Mississippi Delta,” Hyde-Smith said. “I am dedicated to supporting the development of a skilled technical workforce, and I can’t wait to see the great results we get from the new Agricultural Aircraft Operations Career Pathway Program.”

Delta State has been designated as the lead agency for this award and will partner with Mississippi Delta Community College, local WIN Job Centers, Blues Air, Agricultural Flight Operator (AFO) businesses and the South Delta Planning and Development District to develop the pathway leading private pilots to advanced certification in Aerial Applications.

“Delta State, with its focus on community engagement and economic development for all of Mississippi, is in a unique position to facilitate this important partnership to meet a critical need for our agricultural activities,” said Dr. Andy Novobilski, provost and vice president for academic affairs.  “This grant removes barriers, both training and financial, that a relatively new pilot would face as they move into a well-paying career in agricultural aviation.”

The program is designed to provide farmers with qualified Aerial Applicators to meet their yearly demand by encouraging and motivating private pilots to succeed in completing a career pathway in Agricultural Aircraft Operations.

The program will target pilots with a Private Pilot Single Engine Land and a minimum of 100 hours as a pilot in command.

Dr. Billy Moore, dean of the College of Business and Aviation at Delta State said the partnership-based program is an example of the university fulfilling its mission to serve as an educational center for the region.

“This is an opportunity to meet a need, and it’s perfectly aligned with our mission to serve as a resource for the Mississippi Delta,” said Moore. “We are excited to have like-minded partners assist us in building this program and the positive impact it will have on our students and community.”

The grant will initially offset the cost to pilots accepted into the program to offer an FAA commercial, instrument rating, turbine engine training and flight training specific to an ag-adapted aircraft.

After completing training at Delta State and from the partner Aerial Applicator businesses, the pilot will take the Agricultural Aviation Exam (AAE) to prove they have the skills to operate the plane while applying chemicals to farm fields safely.

Once the pilot has passed their AAE Exam, they will be placed with an Agricultural Flight Operator and participate in an internship provided by the WIN Job Center and South Delta Planning and Development District.

“We are excited to be able to offer this program to aspiring agricultural pilots while working with Mississippi Delta Community College and local government agencies,” said Joe Saia, interim chair of the Department of Commercial Aviation at Delta State.

“Our Aviation program will improve existing systems by introducing a positive reinforcement approach that gives students immediate, tangible rewards to earn Commercial and Instrument Pilot certificates. In addition, the program will be used to build bridges, both with local community colleges and the South Delta Planning and Development District,” he added.

Pilots who might be interested in the program will need to be sponsored by an Aerial Applicator business.

For questions or more information about the Agricultural Aircraft Operations Career Pathway program, contact Delta State’s Commercial Aviation department at (662) 846-4205 or

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