Friday, November 8, 2013

Central Washington University seeks new flight contractor to continue aviation program

Central Washington University has issued a request for information from flight school contractors about providing flight instruction for the school’s aviation program.

CWU faculty, through the aviation program, teach in the classroom, but contractor Midstate Aviation has provided the flight training at Bowers Field for many years.

Midstate chose not to renew its contract, and Central cited issues surrounding university control over curriculum and flight instructors as the stumbling block during negotiations. The contract expires in August.

Midstate owner Ron Mitchell previously declined to comment on negotiations, and wished the program continued success in a written statement.

Messages left Thursday for Mitchell were not immediately returned.

FAA rules

New Federal Aviation Administration rules require pilots to have more flight time to fly passenger and cargo airlines — 1,500 hours — but allow 1,000 hours for graduates of accredited four-year aviation programs, according to the release.

Before the FAA passed the rule, CWU’s aviation program had not been accredited, and the request for information requires a new contractor be an FAA-approved flight school and provide certified flight instructors who hold bachelor’s degrees.

Traditional pilot training doesn’t require instructors have academic degrees, but accreditation for a four-year degree granting program does.

Contractors also must ensure curriculum is approved by CWU. Both elements — requirements for instructors and curriculum control — are necessary to meet the requirements of CWU’s accrediting agency.

After fielding information from contractors, CWU will put out a request for proposals, soliciting offers for the contract, CWU Public Affairs Director Linda Schactler said.The request for information cites a preference for instruction to occur at Bowers Field to keep it convenient for students and to keep Bowers Field active.

Central said the program’s 95 students fly nearly 6,800 hours per year, and account for about 80 percent of the takeoffs and landings at the airport.

“Bowers Field is an important asset to the economic profile of Kittitas County in general, and Ellensburg in particular,” CWU President James Gaudino said in the release.

He said Central already has been contacted for more information by regional flight training providers.

“We will continue to provide excellent flight training for our students, and I do hope it can be at Bowers Field. But there are many facilities and contractors in the state that can provide this service,” he said.

Demand for pilots is expected to increase, with half a million more commercial pilot jobs over the next 20 years, said Amy Hoover, the chairwoman of the Department of Aviation, in the release.

The new flight hour requirements are six times what they had been, she said, which will add to the time and money it takes to become a pilot, and other new rules for pilot rest schedules will require some airlines to increase their pilot workforce by 5 percent.

Central has direct hire agreements with Horizon Air, American Eagle, and Pinnacle Airlines, Hoover said.