New aviation contractor divides opinion

Simone Corbett, Assistant News Editor

Skepticism has surrounded the aviation department since IASCO Flight Training signed on as the new contractor for Central’s professional pilot program, replacing Midstate Aviation.

While the program is moving forward, with an expected increase in fall 2015 enrollment, students have voiced diverse opinions regarding the progress of their training.

Ron Mitchell, president of Midstate Aviation, said he refused to renew his contract with Central because he didn’t think they were adequately marketing the program.

According to Mitchell, activity at the airport has decreased over 50 percent since training  began with the new contractor.

“I have not seen anything yet that tells me that the contractor can be successful in doing what they’re doing at Ellensburg,” Mitchell said. “They are not completing the training that is required of the students in a timely manner.”

Mitchell said that, with just a few weeks left in the year, students are still less than a third of the way through their required training.

The students are not completing their training on schedule, and the aircraft they’re using are older and less sophisticated than the airplanes that were provided by me as a former contractor.

— Ron Mitchell, president of Midstate Aviation

Mitchell believes several mistakes were made during the bidding process and that the delayed flight training could’ve been avoided.

“Now they’re basically dependent on this company to ramp up the service, to increase the number of airplanes, to increase the number of flight instructors able to service the students and, if they don’t, then I don’t see any chance that this program will survive,” Mitchell said.

Students, however, have proven to be progressing at their own pace. Many expressed their appreciation to the department for providing multiple options to make up for lost time.

“I think, personally, there is a fairly big difference in how each student is progressing with their flight training. I know for sure there are quite a few people who are going to have to stay after finals week to finish up their training,” sophomore professional pilot major Michael Bageant said.

Junior professional pilot major Willie Heard said he is no longer as stressed about completing his training as he was in the beginning of the year.

“I had to stay for mid-winter break to catch up, which was a sacrifice on my end. They say I’ll be done in time, but I’m not really sure,” Heard said.

An anonymous source said because they didn’t have the financial means to complete training any faster, they are a quarter behind.

“The senior class is going to be lucky to graduate on time, from what I’ve heard, because they are still waiting on the proper airplane, [Cessna 172 RG,] to be sent here so they can finish their CFI training,” the anonymous source said.

The new program contractor wasn’t the only reason student’s training got delayed.

“Unfortunately, the weather is horrible at that time of year. We are all behind, as we were put to the bottom of the list to start,” the anonymous source said.

Upperclassmen’s flight time has been most impacted by the delayed start date.

“I took my check ride a year ago for one of my ratings. As of now, I’m not even halfway through my next course of training,” the anonymous source said.

Sophomore aeronautical science major Deaundre Cola said he doesn’t feel he’s getting any less flight time with IASCO than he did with Midstate.

“It’s a different contractor, so they have different requirements. I feel like I’m getting the same flight time as last year,” Cola said.

While some students have adjusted, many still find the flight scheduling system to be frustrating.

“We would schedule flights and then find out that the plane’s actually not available, and sometimes there were maintenance issues on top of that,” Heard said.

The anonymous source voiced a similar frustration. According to the source, students would show up for a flight on time and be unable to start the lesson for over an hour due to lack of airplane availability.

The source also explained that, due to a lack of line personnel, about 15 minutes of flight time gets taken out of every other student flight to refuel the planes.

“A lot of people, at this point, are just happy we have airplanes to fly in, yet they are not good equipment compared to what we used to have,” the anonymous source said.

There are now 11 planes in Ellensburg, including eight single-engine and three twin-engine.

“We were initially promised newer aircraft, which didn’t pan out, so we have older airplanes that need upholstery work on the inside,” the anonymous source said. “Mechanically, they are sound yet are, in fact, a downgrade.”

Aviation Department Chair Amy Hoover said she does not see the various scheduling and mechanical issues to be out of the ordinary.

Hoover says that in the 12 years she’s been at Central, there has not been any year where all professional pilot students have completed their training by the end of spring quarter.

However, due to the particular circumstances from earlier this year, University Housing and the Dean’s office are providing accommodations to ensure that students will not be charged extra for staying on campus past the end of spring quarter to complete their training.

Hoover also said students will be saving a significant amount of money on their flight training with the new contractor—around $54,000 for all four years versus the previous $66,000.

“This program is a lot cheaper, so that’s a big benefit,” Heard said.

According to Hoover, students have also entered more internships and hiring pipeline agreements this year. In regards to the future of the program, Hoover stated that the flight program is strong, stable and growing.