Aviation program looks to expand


NIck Jahnke, Senior News Reporter

The aviation program is considering moving their operations to McAllister Field in Yakima. CWU has requested that the state provide $14 million for the move. The funding will be spent on the construction of new educational facilities and purchasing and renovating of existing facilities. Although, the funds could just as well be put to use at Bowers Field in Ellensburg which needs renovation, according to CWU President’s Office Chief of Staff Linda Schactler.

Schactler said that problems with Bowers Field began with the closure of the secondary runway. In August of 2017, the Kittitas County Public Works Department deemed the runway unsafe because of cracks and potholes, and due to the lack of funds to repair the damage they made the call to shut it down.

“Not only are we now out of space, both for airplanes and for students and faculty, the facilities there are in really desperate need of a makeover and an update,” Schactler said.

The aircraft hangars at Bowers Field are also in poor condition. Schactler said that some of the hangars that house both aviation lessons and aircraft are rusted to the point that the doors will not open; although, the hangars have since been repaired.

According to a flyer from the aviation department, the number of students in the program has increased by 120 percent since 2010. CWU has increased capacity in the aviation program to help meet the demand for pilots.

The flyer said that the reason behind the increased demand for pilots is the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) mandatory retirement age of 65. According to the flyer, approximately 50 percent of the pilots at major airlines are baby-boomers, as well as people who served in the Vietnam War and are now starting to reach retirement age. The flyer estimated that by 2028, there will be a need for about 790,000 pilots world-wide.

To accommodate the spike in pilot-demand and the increase in aviation students, CWU has made three separate requests to the state to prioritize funding for the enhancement and expansion of the aviation program, according to Schactler. The requests include $5 million for the construction of new educational facilities and $9 million for purchasing and renovating of existing facilities. These funds would come out of either the state capital budget or the transportation budget. The third request for an additional $5.3 million would be for 10 training aircraft and could come out of the state operating, capital or transportation budget, according to Schactler.

Schactler said that while Yakima would be a feasible location for aviation, considering that CWU has a academic center there, the consensus from the Board of Trustees and the Administration is that aviation should ideally stay in Ellensburg.

The problem is that CWU doesn’t currently have any official stake at Bowers Field. According to Schactler, the county government owns the airport and unless CWU can enter into some sort of partnership or agreement with the county, CWU will not able to invest in fixing the place up.

“The bottom line is, Bowers Field needs investment, the county doesn’t have money to do that, they would tell you that in a heartbeat,” Schactler said. “We love Ellensburg, we love being here, we want the students to be here but the higher priority is academic quality and student safety. So we will go wherever we can guarantee that.”

Schactler said that over the summer, CWU administration looked into the possibility of a co-sponsorship with Kittitas County. However, she said that they were unable to make much progress and had to change direction in the fall when the county announced they would no longer be considering the option.

“It seemed to be more complicated. It seemed to really slow down and clog up the negotiations, so we’re starting over, were taking a fresh run at it to see how far we get,” Schactler said.  

Instead, the administration is exploring another option, a memorandum of understanding (MOU). According to Schactler, the MOU would be an agreement between the university and county government to share services. If CWU were to enter into the MOU, it would not mean any sort of shared ownership. The County would still own Bowers Field, but CWU would have the standing it needs to start putting money into renovations and construction.

Schactler said that Vice President of Operations Andreas Bohman has been in contact with County Commissioner Brett Wachsmith, who was not part of the previous discussions about Bowers Field. Schactler said that they have had two positive meetings so far and hopefully there will be more progress in the coming weeks.

“We are continuing to work on an agreement that will allow us to stay here, and at the same time, we are blazing a trail south in case this one doesn’t work out. One way or another, our aviation program will be great,” Schactler said.