A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Partnership between EKU aviation program, Blue Grass Airport expands with opening of new facility

A “mutually beneficial” partnership between Eastern Kentucky University’s nationally prominent aviation program and Blue Grass Airport has taken another step forward.

With the recent opening at the airport of a new facility for general (private) aviation aircraft owners, EKU students are enjoying yet another opportunity for valuable internships and part-time employment. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 14, airport officials were joined by members of the general aviation community and EKU representatives and students to open WestLEX, a new facility specifically designed to provide support services to airport tenants leasing hangars on the west side of the airfield.

Three EKU aviation students are already employed part time at WestLEX. Maggie Smith, a senior aerospace management major from Frankfort who had previously served as an operations intern at the main terminal, said the “wide variety of work” as a service coordinator at a general aviation facility like WestLEX is preparing her well for the industry, which has an acute shortage of pilots, airplane mechanics and other professionals.

From left: EKU students Nathan Sheets, Maggie Smith and Lincoln Kilgore at the WestLEX facility.

“It is a really good experience to engage the general aviation community,” Smith said.

Nathan Sheets, a sophomore professional flight major from Louisville, and Lincoln Kilgore, a sophomore professional flight major from Pikeville, are also employed part time at the facility.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Kentucky Aviation Commissioner Col. (Ret.) Steve Parker noted that Kentucky’s top export is aerospace parts and components, and that the commonwealth ranks second nationally only to Washington, home to Boeing.

“Aviation is rocking in Kentucky,” said Parker, who cited EKU as home to “one of the top four-year aviation programs in America.”

Eric Frankl, executive director for Blue Grass Airport, said the partnership between the airport and the EKU aviation program is “mutually beneficial. It has added tremendous value for the University and the airport, (and) we want to develop it further.”

“We are thankful for the exceptional partner we have found in Eastern Kentucky University,” Frankl said. “With this new facility, EKU students can work part time to learn more about the general aviation community and better understand airport operations and customer service. We enjoy the opportunity to work with such eager and dedicated students and appreciate their interest in the aviation industry.”

Two other Eastern students currently work at Blue Grass Airport. Cameron Sidor, a senior from Richmond, is a part-time operations specialist who was promoted following his internship there in Fall 2017, and Alex Niehaus, a senior from Louisville, is the current airport operations intern. This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Airport Operations Internship Program, which is open exclusively to EKU aviation students and offered twice each academic year. The program boasts a 100 percent employment rate in the aviation industry for its participants within six months of their graduation from EKU.

Kyle Knezevich, an assistant professor of aviation at the University, suggested the best is yet to come. “We look forward to continuing to find ways to get our students involved here,” he said.

EKU’s aviation program offers bachelor’s degree concentrations in aerospace management, aerospace technology and professional flight. For more information, visit aviation.eku.edu.

The WestLEX facility is open year-round and can be accessed via the Gumbert Road entrance to the airport, immediately off Versailles Road. In addition to providing services for the general aviation community, the large hangar will be available for rental to those in the community seeking an event venue. TAC Air, the fixed-base operator located on the airport’s east side of the airfield, will continue to serve as the primary provider for all corporate aviation and private aircraft flying to Lexington.

From Eastern Kentucky University

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