Great Planes Aviation Sep 29, 2019 2:15:22 PM 5 min read

Aviation Pilot Program Takes Flight in Rochester

September 26, 2019 10:41 PM

(ABC 6 News) — With a growing pilot shortage across the country, recruiting and building the next generation of pilots depends on innovative educational programs.  A new two year program in southeastern Minnesota may be just the ticket.

“It’s something that I wanted to do my whole life,” said Colin Williams.  Colin Williams is one of 11 students taking part in the first ever Aviation Program at Rochester Community and Technical College.

“It’s a prime example of solid public, private partnership,” said Michelle Pyfferoen, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC).

The program is a collaboration between the state college, the Rochester International Airport and Great Planes Aviation. “Without the efforts of all three of those groups, this program certainly would not be here,” said President of Great Planes Aviation Nick Fancher.

And the program couldn’t have come at a better time.

According to Boeing, the pilot and technician outlook for the next twenty years looks bleak.  The industry projects more than 800 thousand pilots and more than 750 thousand technicians are needed to maintain the world aviation fleet.

“Ten years reaches back to some of the down turns, the aviation industry went through some contractions,” said Fancher.  He has been in the aviation industry for a decade and says with air travel increasing, the need for pilots and mechanics continues to grow.

“It’s a fantastic time to be getting into aviation, as the retirements continue to happen in the airlines, its going to be good for quite some time,” said Fancher.

For two years he has helped to get the initiative off the ground.  Once RCTC was on board, they worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to build a curriculum that would produce qualified pilots.

“Some of the large commercial airlines are starting to say how do we address the shortage and two year pilots are getting jobs in the industry, so we all have to be a little flexible in trying to come up with the response to this,” said Pyfferoen.

The two year program at RCTC not only teaches them about aviation.  The career pathway program also allows students to train in aircrafts with FAA licensed instructors right away.

“You’re at 5000 feet,” said Instructor Terry Pretzloff with Great Planes Aviation.

I was given the opportunity to take to the skies in the pilot seat.  Our classroom, was skies above the city of Rochester.

“It’s cool to be able to pass your knowledge, and the stuff that was taught to you on to other people and then see them be successful,” said Pretzloff.

Great Planes Aviation runs the lab portion of the college curriculum.  In the the first semester, you gain your private pilot rating.  The second semester, you gain your instrument pilot rating, the third semester focuses on your commercial pilot rating and the last semester, you can become a certified flight instructor.

“We are committed to producing professional pilots that are very serious about what they’re going to do for a living,” said Fancher.  “We will have opportunities to hire students back after they complete their course to help instruct because we’ll need to support the growth of this program.”

“It was huge for me because I do have a career outside of this and own a business in town here, when I decided to do this, I didn’t know this program yet, so it was basically me trying to figure out the logistics of getting to Mankato,” said Williams referring to the other flight school in Minnesota, roughly 80 miles away at Mankato State.

“As the shrinkage is happening nationally, they’re taking it from the regionals and we’re dependent on those regionals to keep those flights coming here in Rochester,” said Pyfferoen.

And the Rochester International Airport has been a key component allowing the student pilots the chance to gain more experience in a controlled congested airspace intermixing with commercial, military and private planes.

“We’ve actually had feedback from the FAA examiner, complimenting us on the quality of pilots we’re turning over to them,” said Fancher.

Future pilots like Colin Williams.

“To me it seems like the ultimate job to get paid to fly an airplane and seeing the world hopefully,” said Williams.

After all, the sky is the limit.

Tuition for the Aviation Program at RCTC is $75,000 a year.    For more information on how you can register for classes click here.

Article by: KAAL TV