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UND pilots bound for Customs and Border ProtectionUND pilots bound for Customs and Border Protection

Fifteen University of North Dakota (UND) sophomores and juniors will be placed in a pathway program as aviation enforcement trainees and taught how to “detect, sort, track, intercept, and apprehend criminals,” according to a Nov. 29 news release. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) division inked an exclusive deal with the institution to recruit pilots for the agency’s fleet of 200 aircraft.

Fifteen University of North Dakota aviation students were tapped for training by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which launched a pilot pathway program with the institution. Photo courtesy of the University of North Dakota.

As long as they keep their grades up, complete the training regimen, and accrue 1,000 flight hours, the AMO Pathways Program students will be virtually assured of full-time employment as CBP pilots when they graduate.

The deal allows the student trainees to convert to aviation enforcement agents in Grand Forks or any of the agency's 74 locations. They will join a force of 700 pilots flying a variety of aircraft that include the P-3 Orion fixed-wing, the UH-60 helicopter, and the MQ-9 Predator drone. CBP also manages a fleet of 300 water-bound vessels.

“Everybody is looking for pilots and they are too,” UND Aerospace Assistant Dean Ken Polovitz told AOPA by telephone. “They knew about our comprehensive aviation program and we’ve had a history of working with the border patrol.” Polovitz added that the university participated in an Army ROTC helicopter training program for 25 years and said members of the military “were familiar” with the college from previous collaborations between the entities.

The students will be hired as federal employees with flexible full- or part-time schedules, the release noted, and their responsibilities will include “assisting with the development of operational plans for interdiction missions, interfacing with state and local law enforcement officials, and performing security liaison duties.”

Polovitz said the college continually looks at ways to enhance the aviation program at the federal level. However, he was a bit surprised at the swiftness with which the pathway program took hold. “They’ve really jumped on it to get it going and worked at light speed” to line up the details. “It’s just been a great experience working with them [CBP].”

AMO Deputy Director Christopher Wiyda noted in the news release that it was “an unprecedented opportunity” for aviation students to earn a salary while they trained for a “challenging and rewarding career.” He added that the aviation enforcement agents could earn “over $100,000 annually after two years of full-time service” and were “our nation’s future experts in airborne and maritime law enforcement.”

University of North Dakota students Body Graff, Luke Schurtz, and Max Lambrecht inspect the panel of a Piper Archer II training aircraft. Photo courtesy of Jackie Lorentz, University of North Dakota.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Aviation Education Programs, Student

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