Business expands with university contract
By Jodi Richards,
BLOOMINGTON, MN - No one can accuse Nancy Grazzini Olson of being unmotivated. She owns and manages Academy College, an accredited private college; Thunderbird Aviation, an FBO located at Flying Cloud Airport (Minneapolis); and Academy Flight Operations at Crystal Airport (Minneapolis). Amidst all her other responsibilities, Olson started another company, Mankato Aviation, which under contract with Minnesota State University, Mankato, provides the flight training portion of the college's professional pilot program.
of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota State University,
Mankato entered into the agreement with Olson's Mankato Aviation roughly
two years ago. The program is structured so that "the students do
their flight training with us, and their academics with the university,"
explains Olson. "We work hand in hand with the university to provide
The flight training is done at the city-owned Mankato Regional Airport, where Olson leases terminal and hangar space to provide flight training to the community as well as the university. Olson's company was awarded the long-term contract to provide flight training for the college after the flight school that previously provided the service decided to focus on operation of the airport. She says that it is common in Minnesota for colleges to contract out the flight training portion of a professional pilot program.
Mankato Aviation flight school employs some 15 certified flight instructors and has an array of aircraft, including three Seminoles, four Cadets, four Archers, and two Cessna 152s. It also features a simulator training center with two Frasca 142 twin-engine simulators, a Frasca 242 Seminole simulator, and a Frasca 242 turboprop simulator.
Olson has found a comfortable balance between operating a college, flight schools, and an FBO. For students interested in pursuing a flying career, Academy College can provide a unique perspective. Depending on a student's level of interest, previous education, and time commitment, Olson's staff is able to point the student toward the path that would best suit his or her needs. She explains that some students are specifically interested in receiving a four-year degree at a university, and those are the ones the staff directs to the Mankato program. For students that want a two-year degree to enter the workforce sooner, Academy College is probably the ideal choice with flight training at Academy Flight Operations on Crystal Airport. Students who are looking for a recreational flying program are referred to flight training at Thunderbird Aviation, located on Flying Cloud Airport.
Olson sees this as a perfect time for those interested in aviation to receive training. "The economy is coming back and when it comes back completely, those students will already have the training and be ready. I've been doing this for years and it's going to come back. I've seen it. These students will be ready for the next upswing."
The number of students enrolled in the Mankato University professional pilot program has grown in recent months, according to Olson. She sees this as a result of the recovering economy. "The market is moving," she says. "And people are really going to start focusing on education. Right now I think the biggest thing is stability. The industry is stable."
PROMOTING AVIATION THROUGH EARLY EDUCATION
As the flight school in Mankato grows, Olson plans to expand the successful programs at Thunderbird Aviation to Mankato Aviation, in particular its Young Flyers Program. Started ten years ago by Olson, the Young Flyer's Program brings in kids from ages seven to 15 for specialized clinics. She explains that participants meet over ten Saturdays to learn everything from how an airplane flies to what careers are available in aviation, as well as take an introductory flight with an instructor. "The program is for young kids to see if this is what they want," Olson says.
A continuation of this is Young Flyers II. For the same age group, this clinic offers students the opportunity to go more in-depth with aviation, including a cross-country flight. "This one is a little more detailed," Olson says.
A week-long summer camp is also conducted at Thunderbird Aviation, which Olson hopes to introduce to Mankato Aviation as well.