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UND, Helicopter Association International announce North Dakota Rotor Pathway Program

New program will promote helicopter piloting careers to North Dakota high school students

UND archival image.

The University of North Dakota, in association with Helicopter Association International, is launching the North Dakota Rotor Pathway Program.

The program will introduce helicopter flight to high school students in aviation classes, according to the University and HAI.

Wesley Van Dell, chief flight instructor for rotorcraft at UND Flight Operations, sees UND as positioned to both help inspire young North Dakotans to consider aviation careers as well as train those who choose UND Aerospace for their advanced education.

“Our school is committed to providing the highest-quality training for our students,” Van Dell said. “We are excited to extend the opportunities in the helicopter industry to more students and show them that the future is very bright.”

North Dakota’s program is modeled after HAI’s inaugural Rotor Pathway Program in Utah, which brought together aviation industry stakeholders to prepare students for the aviation career field. The combination created opportunities for mentorship, internships and job interviews for students as they progressed from high school, through college and beyond.

Both UND and HAI are currently working to create professional pathways with regional aviation companies, as part of the program. One confirmed partnership is with Black Hills Aerial Adventures, a helicopter touring company operating in and around national parks of South Dakota’s Black Hills region.

“We’re hoping to use our industry and alumni connections across the region to further develop pathway opportunities for helicopter pilots,” Van Dell said. “Ideally, students will come to UND and have a career-level position lined up for them after graduation.”

Providing a path

This workforce development initiative comes on the heels of similar efforts involving UND, including a $500,000 grant from the FAA in 2022 to provide North Dakota teachers with the tools and know-how to teach aviation topics and provide hands-on experiences to students, promoting aviation-based careers.

Since 2014, UND Associate Professor Leslie Martin has taught “Introduction to Aviation” at Red River High School, in Grand Forks. Just this past year, the course officially became UND’s first to be offered for dual credit.

This existing class will be the first to introduce more rotorcraft-specific content, as part of the North Dakota Rotor Pathway Program.

The new partnership with HAI will add another layer to the myriad opportunities already available to students through Martin’s class, as well as help other such classes emerge in the region and state.

“Interacting with these passionate students is inspiring,” Martin said. “They’re eager to learn about how they can participate and succeed in aviation. Their passion is genuine, and I have no doubts about their success as they reap the benefits of this program.”

Van Dell said that with help from stakeholders such as the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, a similar curriculum can be developed and disseminated to reach more North Dakota classrooms. As UND Aerospace draws students from around the globe every year, his hope is to have more home state representation in the helicopter program especially.

“There are likely many students in the state who aren’t aware of what UND offers for flight training, or that the career is viable,” Van Dell said. “We have a dire pilot shortage in the helicopter industry, and our goal for this program is to step up to that challenge, spur interest and provide people with a career path.”

Next generation of pilots

Mike McHugh, education coordinator for the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, said he’s looking forward to working with UND and other organizations that have a vested interest in producing the next generation of helicopter pilots.

“Our state relies on aviation, especially for agricultural and emergency services,” McHugh said. “I’m excited that North Dakota can stand up this program for the next generation of pilots as well as for growing the numbers of those pilots.”

“The rollout of the North Dakota Rotor Pathway Program is a testament to the dedication, professionalism and love of aviation found among aviation leaders in North Dakota,” said Cade Clark, vice president of government affairs for HAI. “UND is well-known for the caliber of pilots it produces.”

“UND has consistently brought innovative solutions forward and is once again stepping up to tackle the issue of workforce development,” Clark said.


About Helicopter Association International

HAI is the professional trade association for the global vertical aviation industry and represents more than 1,100 companies and over 16,000 industry professionals in more than 65 countries. Each year, HAI members safely operate more than 3,700 aircraft approximately 2.9 million hours. HAI is dedicated to the promotion of rotorcraft as a safe, effective business tool that provides unique advantages to society and the advancement of the international vertical aviation community.