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December 15, 2012

ISU trustees OK plan to start flight academy

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State University is moving forward with plans to create its own flight academy at Terre Haute International Airport, following action by the board of trustees Friday.

Trustees gave university officials the authority to negotiate and enter into a four-year lease agreement with the airport, which will renovate a facility to provide classroom, office and hangar space.

The goal is for the flight academy to begin operation next fall. It would be managed by the university’s aviation technology department and provide flight training for students.

“This has been a strong program for many years, but it’s reached a point that we need to do this to keep up with our competition,” said ISU Provost Jack Maynard.

ISU has one of the few professional pilot programs that does not have a flight academy, he noted.

“We feel the flight academy is needed to take us to the next level,” said Harry Minniear, department chairman. “We feel this is the time and place to make this move.”

ISU officials cited several reasons for wanting to start a flight academy.

It will give the university greater oversight over flight operations, and the university plans to buy pre-owned, but modern, technically advanced aircraft that are important for ISU students to be competitive as they enter the job market.

The market for pre-owned aircraft sales favors buyers now, Maynard said. Also, there is a projected shortage of commercial pilots and opportunities for program growth.

ISU would purchase up to 11 pre-owned aircraft at a cost of about $1.9 million. Startup costs, including purchase of aircraft, would be funded through an internal, $2 million general fund loan to be repaid from student flight fees over 10 years.

Initially, about $200,000 from ISU’s general fund would pay salaries and benefits for a chief pilot, assistant chief pilot, administrative assistant and other administrative costs. Ultimately, the intent is for the flight academy to pay for itself through the student flight training fees.

Trustees had questions, but overall were enthusiastic about the proposal. “It sounds pretty exciting,” said trustee president Randy Minas.

Currently, aviation students fly at Sky King Airport through Brown’s Flying School, which has an agreement with ISU. In the past, ISU also had an agreement with Terre Haute International Airport, which operated a flight school for many years but opted to discontinue it last year.

The ISU aviation students pay the flight schools for flight instruction, and for many years, that arrangement “served us well,” Maynard said.

“We have a great relationship with Brown Flying School,” Minniear said. But officials feel it’s time for ISU to operate its own flight academy.

With the ISU Flight Academy, flight training fees will be paid to ISU. No significant cost increase to students is anticipated.

The planes purchased by ISU will be used solely for student flight instruction and will not be for use by faculty or other university personnel. The academy will not provide training to the general public, nor will it be used for charter service.

To minimize risk to ISU, all airplane maintenance and refueling will be outsourced.

Maynard emphasized that the lease still needs to be negotiated with Terre Haute International Airport.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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