KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University is preparing to take its College of Aviation to new heights — figuratively.

The WMU Board of Trustees has approved up to $20 million to purchase a new fleet of aircraft for the college. Raymond Thompson, dean of WMU’s College of Aviation, said the new fleet is needed to replace the school’s current planes with the latest field technology at a time when the demand for pilots is soaring.

“When we acquired our previous fleet of Cirrus aircraft, Western stood out for the type of training and skills students were able to develop because of the quality of the planes and the high level of technology we equipped them with,” Thompson said in a statement.

Thompson believes a new fleet would make WMU one of the best aviation programs in the country. He’s not the only one. Even without the new fleet, Flying Magazine ranked WMU as a second-tier program — one of four in the country. The University of Oklahoma was the only aviation program to be named to the top tier.

The funding will come as a loan from the WMU Foundation. The $20 million is expected to help cover 32 new training aircraft as well as a “Super Decathlon” training aircraft, which is used to practice “specialized skills.”

Thompson says he doesn’t expect to use the full $20 million loan. The College of Aviation plans to sell off its current fleet of 28 planes to reduce overall costs.

“We’re very appreciative of the WMU Foundation for helping to make this happen,” Thompson stated. “Being able to purchase the new aircraft rather than lease them allows us to start building equity right away and ultimately safe money, which is a win for the University and for our students.”

The first round of new aircraft is expected to arrive on campus sometime next year.