A proposed partnership between the Moore County Airport and Sandhills Community College to develop a program of study that would utilize existing assets for flight training instruction and other aeronautical skills has all the elements of a success waiting to happen.
In a world where professional jobs are scarce, the aviation industry screams growth and stability to technically inclined students.
Flight training is a door-opener to this 21st century vocation, and the thrill of a student’s first solo flight can be translated into new learning experiences and challenges for more hands-on education and classroom work. A pathway forward quickly develops in a student’s mind.
Local resident Bill Bateman is the chairman of the Moore County Airport Authority and a commercial pilot for Southwest Airlines. Bateman and Airport Manager Steve Borden presented the idea for a professional pilot program incorporating classes at Sandhills with flight training at the nearby airport at a special meeting called to discuss the vision. Moore County commissioners listened intently.
Fact-finding and discussions between the airport and college have been underway for some time now. SCC President Dr. John Dempsey has been monitoring the background and market research. He seems to believe that the proposal has minimum financial risk, with much to be gained.
During the presentation, Dempsey told the commissioners that SCC envisions a three-year ramp-up period after state approval. By then, it would be possible to measure success or failure in concrete statistics. Dempsey predicted that most enrollees would be young men. And when paired with health services training attractive to women, flight training would help to balance the male/female ratio on the campus.
A curriculum standard, Transportation Operations, is already included in the education system and states, “Graduates may earn a commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating, specialize in aviation management or in unmanned air systems, and may find employment as commercial, corporate and military pilots, fixed base operators and airport managers.”
Bateman focused on an urgent need to produce more than 8,000 new pilots a year to fill vacancies created by retirements and traffic growth. Commercial airlines, including Southwest, believe the pilot shortage is at hand. Boeing, a major aircraft manufacturer, has estimated that orders for 30,000 new aircraft are already in the pipeline.
Right now, demand for pilots far exceeds the existing supply.
“We already have classroom space, briefing rooms and office facilities,” Bateman noted, and “three Cessna 172 training aircraft.”
The immediate requirement is for a full-time chief of the Flight Department, and the county’s help with this staffing cost is needed. The price tag for this individual is $71,000, according to the presentation.
While existing aircraft will meet the needs of most of the training, a complex aircraft, an airplane with flaps, constant speed prop and retractable landing gear, will be required for advanced commercial and instructor courses. Several options are possible to acquire the airplane.
The authority chairman told the group that his current operation could provide the $125,000 base cost for the new airplane, but county assistance with insurance and maintenance expense would be critical for success. The total request for new funding amounts to $89,000 each year for the three-year trial ramp-up.
At the present time, three North Carolina community colleges have career pilot programs. None are easily accessible for local students, leaving a void for Moore and surrounding counties. Student enrollment at existing colleges is reported to be satisfactory, and Sandhills has found strong local interest for the training.
While the immediate goal is to train pilots, aeronautical skills and advanced work beyond Moore County are out there for graduates of this program. Aviation is captivating to many persons, whether through corporate flying, military service, the space program, or engineering specialties. And it often starts with flying lessons.
Florida’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is called “the Harvard of the sky,” and offers a range of degree and non-degree programs in the fields of aviation and aerospace. Its aerospace engineering program has been ranked as the top program in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for the last nine years.
Bateman and Borden are Embry graduates who have impacted the industry. A quick review of industrywide needs paints a picture of high-paying jobs in all specialties serving the aerospace and airline industries. Any student who is exposed to flying through the Moore County program can expand his educational goals to include a future in a growth industry.
Walter B. Bull Jr. lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.