Detroit district takes steps to move Davis Aerospace classes back to the city airport

The Detroit school district is taking the first step toward returning Davis Aerospace students to the city airport, six years after an emergency manager moved them away from the location where they were getting in-the-field training.

In the fall, all 50 ninth-graders participating in the aviation program will be bused to the Coleman A. Young International Airport for afternoon classes focusing on aviation. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told members of the school board finance committee Friday that the goal is to include an additional grade of students each year. Eventually, all Davis Aerospace students will take classes in a small building at the airport.

The change comes at a time when the district is working to attract more parents. Vitti’s plans have included a few new initiatives— a new high school opening on the Marygrove College campus that will be focused on social justice and engineering, opening it’s first free-standing Montessori school, and beginning to invest in, and offer, more programs that prepare students for careers. He hopes these unique opportunities will encourage families to enroll in the Detroit district.

The 2013 decision to move Davis Aerospace from the airport angered school advocates, who said moving the program would damage a school that provided a unique opportunity for students. Materials provided during Friday’s meeting indicate that in the past decade, the school hasn’t been able to adequately prepare students for careers as pilots, ground control personnel, and mechanics.

Since an emergency manager cut back the school’s programs to cut costs six years ago, enrollment has declined from 196 to 168, according to state data. Advocates have pushed the district to bring the school back to what it once was.

Now, those advocates are hopeful.

“A couple of years ago, it would’ve appeared as though there was no solution,” said Col. Lawrence Millben, a former base commander at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base, and former president of Davis Aerosepace’s advisory committee.

“But now, we actually have the footprint down at the airport coming in September. We didn’t have that before.”

Board member Sonya Mays was happy to hear the news.

“There’s so many of us that want to see this happen,” Mays told Vitti, before agreeing to support the decision.

In 2017, a district planning committee began looking at a new vision for Davis Aerospace in part to address industry projections of vacancies for pilots and mechanics, according to materials included with the agenda for Friday’s meeting.

The airport used to be Detroit’s major air hub, but it has not served a major airline since Pro Air left in 2000. But training for pilots and other aviation personnel still takes place there.

The district has not decided if Davis Aerospace will be the school it used to be.

Vitti says the building isn’t big enough to support all students in the program — there are only three classrooms available — but that the district “has a commitment from the city to build out a footprint of what would be the Davis Aerospace program.” They’re also working on a partnership with Delta Airlines for future programming.

“Over time, we believe there will be enough building space to possibly add an entire high school,” he told the board. “But at minimum, it will be used for the aviation program.”