Of all the decisions that St. Cloud State has made in the past decade, closing the Aviation program is the worst. While St. Cloud State suffers through another year of enrollment decline, United Airlines bought a flight training academy to build a pipeline for the 10,000 new pilots they’ll need.
According to the Chicago Tribune article, “United Airlines is buying an Arizona flight training academy to help train the more than 10,000 pilots the airline expects to hire within a decade. The academy, currently operating as Westwind School of Aeronautics in Phoenix, will be part of a recruiting program United announced last year, called Aviate, that lets pilots join a pipeline to United with a conditional job offer early in their careers rather than waiting until they rise through the ranks at regional carriers or complete military service.”
Had St. Cloud State kept its Aviation program open, it likely would’ve gotten approached by Delta or some other airline to supply pilots to the airline. It’s fairly common for these airlines to offer bonuses to graduates from these flight academies if they stay with the company 2-3 years. It’s even more common for these airlines to fast-track these pilots through the regional airlines to the major airlines.
That’s before talking about expanding the Aviation program to train people in aerial firefighting for the western states. That’s before expanding the program to train students on drone operations. I’d guarantee that each of these program expansions would increase SCSU enrollment dramatically. That means a new energy for the University. That means a reinvigoration of SCSU, which is essential to the school’s survival.
What’s required is leadership from our local politicians, starting with Dan Wolgamott. Rep. Wolgamott is a member of the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Division. Wolgamott and Sen. Relph are working together on extending NorthStar to St. Cloud, which might create a dozen jobs while costing the state millions of dollars in operational subsidies over the next decade. (Yes, I’m being slightly sarcastic about the jobs number. I’m not sarcastic about the subsidies.) Why can’t they work on something that revitalizes St. Cloud’s economy?
Building a world-class aviation training center in St. Cloud as part of a new and improved SCSU Aviation program would reinvigorate the University and the city of St. Cloud. After losing major employers like Electrolux and Herbergers, St. Cloud needs an industrial-strength shot in the arm economically.
Without legislative leadership, this vision won’t happen. It won’t happen if left up to Gov. Walz. I’m being polite in say that his economic growth vision for Minnesota is lackluster. Thus far, the jury is still out on the St. Cloud legislative delegation. As for our mayor, he’s had the opportunities to reinvigorate the city and failed. Companies are leaving town or going out of business. The University has shrunk during his time in office.
Professor Emeritus John Palmer noted this:
United said last year it expects nearly half of its 12,500 pilots to retire within a decade. Over the next 20 years, Boeing estimates that airlines will need to recruit about 131,000 commercial pilots in North America and 514,000 more throughout the rest of the world.
It is not just United that will need pilots in the next 20 years. After subtracting the 10,000, a 1,000 a year on average, 55,000 new pilots will be needed for the rest of domestic airlines. Worldwide, 240,000 will be needed. Why would SCSU not want to explore how it could re-enter the aviation training market?
Even if it could only attract .25% of the annual market for new pilots that would be over 130 new entering freshman a year and in four years would result in an increase of 500 FTE each year. When the aviation program closed during the Great Recession 100 entering freshman intended to major in aviation and over 180 were admitted to an aviation major. With the strong recovery in the aviation industry, SCSU could serve a societal need and help address it’s enrollment decline by re-entering the aviation training market.
This is from later in the article:
United said the academy, which will be renamed United Aviate Academy in September, will initially produce about 300 graduates each year, but it hopes to expand that to 500. Graduates would be able to work as instructors at flight schools United has partnered with to rack up hours of flying time required to qualify for entry-level jobs with regional carriers, such as ExpressJet, Air Wisconsin or Mesa Airlines. Pilots in the Aviate program hired by the regional carriers would be then eligible for jobs with United.
With industrial demands like this, why isn’t SCSU interested in supplying these needs while rebuilding the University? Better yet, why aren’t our legislators (Relph, Theis and especially Wolgamott) pushing this blueprint?