Friday, December 15, 2017

Moore County Airport Airport (KSOP), Sandhills Community College Form Alliance for Pilot Training

Visitors check out the cockpit of an airplane parked on the runway of the Moore County Airport.

When Sandhills Community College’s professional pilot training program takes off, it will do so with the support and partnership of the Moore County Airport Authority, which has agreed to contribute to its startup costs.

Scheduled to open admissions in the spring and start instruction in the fall of 2018, the program will be a partnership between the college and the airport’s flight school, privately operated by Total Flight Solutions.

The authority had $20,000 in its budget earmarked for exactly that purpose, and during its meeting on Tuesday, it voted to formally allocate those funds to the college, which has a part-time coordinator starting in January to fine-tune the program’s structure and pursue FAA credentials.

Sandhills will be the fourth North Carolina community college to offer training to aspiring commercial pilots. The college anticipates high demand for the program based on Moore County’s location relative to regional and international airports.

Sandhills hopes to enroll between 10 and 20 students in the program’s first year. But it won’t realize additional revenue from the program until 2019, as the state’s community college system reimburses individual community colleges based on the number of credit hours students took the prior year.

“We’re not funded till after the fact, essentially, so starting new things for us is always a challenge,” said Rebecca Roush, Sandhills’ vice-president for academic affairs. “This definitely helps with that, and we are using some other specially designated funds through the Foundation to help with the initial costs of the program.”

Students in the program will spend their first semester on the Sandhills campus taking general education classes toward an associate degree, as well as introductory aviation courses, before starting flight training at the Moore County Airport in their second semester.

How that will work has yet to be ironed out. Some community colleges leave it up to their students to seek flight training on their own dime and time.

Sandhills will also apply for Part 141 designation from the FAA, which classifies programs that keep students on a tight timeline between start and finish. Programs without that certification do not qualify for the use of VA funds by veterans and military students.

Since 10 percent of the Sandhills student body are active duty, veterans or dependents, the school is hoping to attract members of that population to the college with the pilot program.

Earning an associate degree in aviation, at around $40,000 for class tuition, flight training and fuel costs, will be more expensive than Sandhills’ existing programs. But it will be a cheaper starting point, in the long run, than a private flight school for students pursuing careers as commercial pilots.

“There is a potential salary benefit (to an associate degree). Also, many individuals who are true career pilots end up going to a bachelor’s degree, and there are established relationships between existing community colleges and four-year schools,” said Roush. “They’ll have more of the academic credits having gone through an associate degree program than they would having gone through training at a flight school.”

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