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New UMass Aviation Center Opens to Ringing Endorsements

interior of control tower at Westover air reserve base

An editorial in Masslive gave a rave review to the recent opening of the University of Massachusetts Transportation Center (UMTC) Aviation Research and Training facility adjacent to the Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. Also see American Military News and UMass News Office story: New UMass Center Will Provide Cutting Edge Aviation Research, Training.

“The University of Massachusetts Amherst is taking a bold step to maximize several assets already beneficial to this region,” the Masslive editorial said.

The UMTC’s $4.75 million, state-of-the-art, aviation research and training center officially opened at Westover Municipal Airport in Chicopee with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 26. Among other assets, the new center will provide aeronautical research and training for air traffic controllers, pilots, and other aviation professionals.

The Masslive editorial went on to say that the new aviation center and the modernized Westover Airforce Base runway “deliver a double dose of very welcomed news to a facility whose impact on the economy and security of the region has never waned, and which will maintain its key role for decades and generations to come.”

The new aviation center comes under the overarching leadership of Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Michael Knodler Jr., the College of Engineering Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Affairs and director of the UMTC.

As Knodler said during the opening ceremonies, “This new aviation training center will support a critical workforce need in the air traffic control profession, as well as bring UMass students and faculty to this new vibrant airfield, where future partnerships and research will flourish.”

In attendance at the April 26 ceremony were Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, U.S. Representative Richard Neal, UMass President Mary Meehan, and a number of state and local officials.

The facility’s aeronautical research capabilities, air traffic control tower simulator, and other features will help address needs critical to the future of air transportation. A highlight of the 8,500-square-foot center is a high-fidelity simulator that provides the 360-degree, 3-D experience of working in an air traffic control tower.

The simulator will provide opportunities for cutting-edge aviation research and training programs with military and civilian applications and serve as the Northeast region’s training hub for people pursuing careers in air transportation, including air traffic control.

One key goal of the center is to create a Massachusetts-based training center for advanced aeronautical research to improve aviation safety and efficiency. In that context, the center will develop and apply advanced training methods to ensure that air traffic controllers, pilots, and airline operators are able to leverage the benefits of newly developed technologies capable of improving aviation safety and efficiency.

Construction of the facility was completed in 2021 but its full use was delayed by the pandemic. The center will also encourage and support economic development in the region.

In addition, the simulator will also serve as a research platform for UMass faculty who want to do research and address critical questions such as how to integrate unoccupied aircraft (drones) safely into the national airspace with traditionally manned aircraft. (May 2022)