Aviation Program for Students Reopens at Detroit City Airport Following $1M Gift from Anonymous Donor

The Benjamin O. Davis Aerospace Technical High School returns most of its curriculum today to the original start of the aviation career-focused program at Coleman A. Young International Airport, more commonly known as Detroit City Airport.
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Detroit City Airport aviation school
A $1 million gift from an anonymous donor reopened the student aviation program at Detroit City Airport. The new space includes a classroom laboratory. // Photo by R.J. King

The Benjamin O. Davis Aerospace Technical High School returns most of its curriculum today to the original start of the aviation career-focused program at Coleman A. Young International Airport, more commonly known as Detroit City Airport.

Following a $1-million gift from an anonymous donor, the Friends of Detroit City Airport, a quasi-public development agency, transformed a maintenance building immediately south of the airport’s former passenger terminal into a multi-faceted operation that offers a large classroom and laboratory, an assembly room that includes a mural of the Detroit Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, a conference room, and an upcoming computer lab and a communications room.

In the next year or so, the Friends of City Airport plans to add a hanger that would attach to the south end of the school. To help bring attention to the reopening of the school at the airfield, Friends of Detroit City Airport, the Civil Air Patrol, the Detroit Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Detroit City Airport officials, and others have hosted a series of programs for more than 300 Detroit youth including field trips, robotics classes, assistance with the annual FIRST Robotics Competition, and an open house.

“We will introduce the students to aviation careers that include becoming a military, a commercial, or a private pilot as well as studies in aircraft mechanics, ground crew operations, air traffic control, technicians, and avionics,” says Beverly Kindle-Walker, executive director of Friends of Detroit City Airport. “We’re also looking to bring in additional educational offerings and are reaching out to Wayne County Community College (which has a nearby school along Connor Avenue).”

To start, around 35 students from the Golightly Career and Tech Center, a school located a few miles away that supported the Davis curriculum after it left Detroit City Airport, are being bussed to the airport every weekday for training from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Students can earn a license to be a private pilot once they are 16 years old.

“Throughout the year, the students will be able to study and get tours of aircraft from the military, the Coast Guard, and others,” says Alfonso King, a board member of Friends of Detroit City Airport. “The U.S. Air Force also offers students a free, four-year college degree with four years of service, and you can attend school while you’re in the service.”

Students also can attend college via the Detroit Promise, a program that funds two- and four-year college degree programs and is administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber (with support from the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation). The so-called Detroit Scholarship Fund, which was started by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011, is available to all high school students in Detroit.

“The training at Davis will help students enter the aviation industry, where they can earn $45,000 a year coming out of high school,” says Tony Stevenson, a Friends of Detroit City Airport board member. “From there, you can get a commercial license following four years of college. The bigger the plane you fly, the bigger your paycheck.”

The Davis school also will offer a tutoring program. MIG Construction in Detroit donated its services in renovating the school building. The original high school was closed a few years ago due to cuts made by Detroit Public Schools Community District, and it was transferred to the Detroit Fire Department.

Today, the former school, located at the west end of the airfield, is used as a training site for the fire department.

In recent news, the main runway at Detroit City Airport was redone with grooved pavement to help disperse water when aircraft land. New lighting along the 5,090-foot runway also was added, along with new lighting for the taxiways. On-site aircraft rescue services were re-added, as well.

The city’s overall recovery, along with the opening of Little Caesars Arena, has been drawing additional air traffic to Detroit City Airport over the last five years. Mayor Mike Duggan also is studying a plan to expand the main runway to provide for more private aircraft, while another part of the airport may be redeveloped for a logistics or light assembly facility.

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