BY AARON KUNKLER, Staff Reporter
The aviation program at Central will be undergoing some changes with the acceptance of a new flight-training contractor.
Last summer, the aviation department announced that it would no longer work with Midstate Aviation, once the current contract expired in August 2014. This was due to a variety of factors, but ultimately Midstate did not make a bid to renew the contract.
Midstate Aviation has been working with Central since the 1960s, and has been on contract with the aviation department since the 1980s. Ron Mitchell, president of Midstate Aviation, said he was disappointed that they will no longer be working with the college, but that there was no other option.
“We have a contract through August 2014, and after that we no longer have a contract with the university,” Mitchell said.
He went on to explain his decision to not pursue bidding or negotiations with the aviation department.
“The main reason [for not bidding] is that they offered me a contract that would not allow us to be profitable as a business,” Mitchell said.
In a letter sent out to Central aviation students by Amy Hoover, professor and chair of the aviation department, addressed this issue:
“Negotiations such as this are difficult because they mix a state institution, which is not for profit, and a private company, which has to make a profit to stay in business, so what works for one may not necessarily work for the other.”
Part of the discrepancy between the two organizations has been the levels of accrediting between the current program and the standards that Central wishes to achieve.
The current aviation program is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), but there have been some concerns about the current program meeting certain requirements. Central is still accredited, however, so students in the program or interested in it can be assured that at current, and in the foreseeable future, that standing will be upheld.
Last week, the aviation department announced that they had found a new contractor to provide flight training in conjunction with the university. IASCO Flight Training (IFT) is a flight training company based out of Redding, Calif. IASCO is proceeding with negotiations between the county and campus and exploring avenues for potential development at Bowers Field.
Linda Schactler, chief of staff at Central, expressed optimism about the new deal.
“We’re very excited about the partnership with the new contractor,” Schactler said. “Our goal is to create a seamless transition between contractors to ensure student training.”
IFT is an internationally recognized and accredited organization within the educational and professional communities.
In conjunction with these ideas is the possibility of reducing the cost of pilot certification. Last summer, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new guidelines allowing accredited programs to fast-track potential pilots by reducing the amount of in-flight hours from 1,500 to 1,000.
In order to achieve this, Central must retain its NWCCU standing. IFT promises this, and with a reduction in total hours required, students could see a reduction in the $70,000 or so price tag associated with the current program.
“We’re hoping that the new contractor will be able to reduce costs for students,” Schactler said.
Not everyone is as optimistic about the prospect, though. Mitchell expressed worries about the program being shifted out of Midstate.
“I’m very concerned for the students that are in the program. I’m very concerned for my employees, many of which are students at Central. I’m concerned for the airport,” Mitchell said.
He may have good reason to be concerned for the airport. Approximately 75-80 percent of the flights which occur at Bowers Field are from student flights. Though owned by the county, the field receives a subsidy for every ‘action’ which occurs on the airstrip, including landings and take-offs.
IFT was unavailable for comment at the time this article was written. Consequently, there is no specific information on potential ways in which they could maintain flight-density or transfer the physical components needed to an existing or new facility at Bowers Field.
Schactler remains confident and optimistic about future developments.
“IFT is bringing tremendous experience in the international marketplace,” Schactler said. “We’re excited about the possibilities of the new contract.”