Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Ozarks Technical Community College aviation program opens at full capacity

Sarah Tindell found the inspiration to become a pilot next door.

She was riveted by stories from a neighbor, a corporate pilot for John Q. Hammons, and starting thinking about a career in the air. After one flying lesson, she was hooked.

"I fell in love," said Tindell, 17. "I knew what I wanted to do."

The Kickapoo High School graduate was among the first 24 students selected for a new, two-year aviation program offered by Ozarks Technical Community College. It will start Aug. 21.

With the initial seats already filled, the program is a partnership between OTC and Premier Flight Center with space and support from the leadership of the Springfield-Branson National Airport.

"This demonstrates the pinnacle of public-private partnerships," said Matt Hudson, dean of technical education at OTC. "We are so lucky to have this in Springfield."





The program, with an estimated cost of $65,000, is designed to prepare graduates to work as commercial pilots. Those jobs include cargo hauling, charter flights, firefighting, rescue operations and aerial photography.

OTC Chancellor Hal Higdon said it is unusual but not unprecedented for a community college to offer an aviation program. He said OTC decided to move forward, after two years of development, because the demand for new pilots is so high.

"We are fulfilling a need in our community," he said. "This one is an example, purely, of industry need because all the Vietnam-era pilots are aging out."

The program has received approval from the Missouri Department of Higher Education, Higher Learning Commission, and the U.S. Department of Education. They are working on approval by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Higdon described Brian Weiler, director of aviation at the Springfield airport, as the force behind the program.

"He did all the work and brought it to us," he said. "We said 'yeah, that's a great model."

Hired six years ago, Weiler arrived in Springfield and immediately identified the need for a local flight training program.

"In the aviation industry, we desperately need pilots," he said.

The 2015 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook projects that 558,000 new commercial pilots — including 95,000 in North America alone — will be needed during the next 20 years.

"In order for this to have credibility, we needed to have someone involved and OTC was a natural fit," he said.




The airport board agreed two years ago to make the flight training program a priority and renovated an unused part of the old terminal to house the private company that agreed to partner with OTC.

"The airport is thrilled this is coming together," he said. "For me personally, working on this flight school is the most rewarding thing I've been part of."

Cindy Stephens, interim director of the aviation program, said students who complete an associate degree in applied science at OTC can transfer to Drury University to pursue a bachelor's degree.

"If someone wants to be an airline pilot, they need to have a four-year degree," she said.

Corina Everhart-Bond, general manager of Premier Flight Center, said it has offered private flight instruction in Springfield for more than a year.

"We knew we wanted to be a flight school here because there is such a demand," she said.

Students who enroll will take ground school and general education courses at OTC and flight instruction at the old airport terminal. Since the program is offered by the college, students can apply for financial aid.

Premier offers a variety of planes, including a newly painted blue and white one with a tail number that ends with "Zero-Tango-Charlie" or OTC.

Premier's parent company, North Star Aviation, has similar partnerships with colleges in Minnesota and Ohio.

Everhart-Bond said before the OTC program, there was no college-affiliated program within driving distance, meaning students would have to relocate to enroll.

Tindell, 17, said the proximity of the OTC program convinced her to sign up. "Honestly, I don't know if I would have been as interested if this wasn't around. It's an exciting thing to come to Springfield, it's something new."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average Missouri salary for commercial pilots is $66,820 and jobs are plentiful.

"There is going to be such an opening," Tindell said of finding work. "That job opening is what is driving me."

OTC aviation program

Students enrolled in the OTC aviation program will be able to earn the skills needed to pursue a commercial pilot license.

In pursuit of an associate's degree of applied science in aviation, students will take ground school classes taught by OTC instructors at the OTC Springfield Campus and flight training with Premier Flight Center LLC, located at the former Springfield-Branson National Airport terminal, 500 W. Kearney St., Suite 110.

Students are expected to pay $117 per credit hour for ground school classes. Hands-on flight labs will cost an estimated $13,000 per flight course, with all four flight labs totaling nearly $54,000.

The classes include airline operations, aviation weather, air traffic control system and commercial pilot flight lab.

Agreement with Drury

A pact signed Aug. 7 will allow graduates of the OTC aviation program to seamlessly transfer to Drury University to pursue either a bachelor's degree in general studies or organizational communication and development. A bachelor's degree is one of the requirements needed to obtain an airline transport pilot license.

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