CLEVELAND, Miss. — The first ten students from the Commercial Aviation Department at Delta State University to graduate with an Agricultural Aviation Operations Career Pathway Certification were recognized during a ceremony Friday, June 2 in the DSU airport hangar at the Cleveland Municipal Airport.
Colonel Brad MacNealy, Director of Flight Operations for the Commercial Aviation Department said, “We’ve got what we feel is the premier aerial applicator course not only in the country, but in the world. We are sitting in the middle of the best farmland in the world. We have a university with an aviation program. We have all the agricultural expertise right in our back yard. It’s the perfect partnership.”
MacNealy pointed out that completion of this program allowed the graduates to be hired by an aerial applicator business without incurring increased insurance costs, removing one of the largest hurdles for new ag pilots. “The insurance benefits from this program are huge,” he said.
Glen Holloway, an ag pilot from Drew and Mississippi’s representative to the National Association of Aerial Applicators was on hand for the ceremony and said, “The national association is extremely excited about this program because it has been needed for a long time. The median age for ag pilots right now is in the upper 50’s, so in the next decade or so, there is going to be more of a shortage than there is now. We are really excited to be associated with Delta State.”
The program was the result of DSU’s collaboration with area ag pilots, the Cleveland Airport Board, and many others. Ike Brunetti of Brunetti Flying Service in Shelby was instrumental in organizing the program, and guided the new pilots and their instructors as the program developed. He spoke to the pilots and the friends, family and supporters assembled in the hangar, saying, “Dreams have to have goals, without goals they are only dreams.”
Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith was set to be the keynote speaker, but a midnight vote on the debt ceiling deal Thursday kept her from being able to attend. Instead, she sent her regards and comments via video. She said, “Today, we celebrate your graduation and certification in an area of great importance to Mississippi and our nation — agricultural aviation. As former Ag Commissioner, this industry is very close to my heart. The ag pilot shortage is not just a statistic, but it’s a call to action, and you all have answered that call to serve Mississippi and American agriculture in a big way. The importance of your role cannot be overstated. Ag aviation is essential to Mississippi’s largest industry, agriculture. By choosing this career path, you are embracing the responsibility of safeguarding our state’s agricultural economy and contributing to its success.”
The Agricultural Aviation Operations Career Pathway Certification attests to a student successfully completing hazmat training, FAA instrument flight certification, FAA commercial certification, tailwheel endorsement and a minimum of 100 hours, 25 hours of which consisting of light bar training in a Citibria, 25 hours of light bar aerial application In an AG Wagon (C-188) and ten-hour type-rating and aerial application in an Air Tractor 802.
Students receiving certification are:
· Harden Belvedresi, Clarksdale
· Mark Bryant, Raymond
· Jacob Habig, Grenada
· Rob Heflin, Isola
· Billy James, Charleston
· Connor Lang, Inverness
· Paxton McKnight, Cleveland
· Ben Malloy, Shelby
· Dustin Roncali, Inverness
· Logan Showah, Indianola