AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst and M2C Aerospace of Milford, Mass., have launched plans for a new Aviation Research and Training Center at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee where they will conduct aeronautical research and provide training for air traffic controllers, pilots and other aviation professionals.
The center will be located at Westover in space leased from the Air Force and staffed by UMass Amherst faculty and students and scientists from M2C.
It will use a 360° air traffic control tower simulator, according to officials.
The center is supported by a $5 million state grant that will be used to secure additional funding from the state and federal governments, private industry and foundations, says John Collura of the UMass Amherst Transportation center and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the UMass Amherst College of Engineering.
A five-year agreement between UMass Amherst and M2C was signed last September as an initial step in creating the center. The state has since released $100,000 from the state grant to conduct a cost study for renovating a building at Westover to permanently house the center, which is expected to open in the spring of 2017.
“We’re currently planning to renovate approximately 27,000 square feet at Westover, about 7,000 of which will accommodate the 360° simulator,” says Collura. “Being based at a military installation, we plan to offer current military air traffic controllers who are ending their active service an opportunity to become certified as civilian air traffic controllers through an onsite training program.”
A significant number of air controllers in the New England region are expected to retire in the next decade and that increases the demand for a modern education and training facility, officials noted. This approach could be adapted for new civilian controllers, which — in combination with the transitioning military controllers — would help alleviate the FAA’s shortage of controllers and allow for joint military training with Westover’s staff, officials added.
The center will also develop advanced training methods to ensure air traffic controllers, pilots and airline operators are able to leverage the benefits of newly developed technologies capable of improving aviation safety and efficiency. The center will also encourage and support economic development at the air base and the region.
The simulator will also serve as a research platform for faculty who want to do research and address critical questions such as how to integrate unmanned aircraft safely into the national airspace with manned aircraft.