Despite $600,000 control tower, Atlantic Cape Community College can't move forward with air traffic control training program


July 15--The Federal Aviation Administration is currently not accepting applications for the Air Traffic-College Training Initiative Program and no decision has been made when it will begin accepting them, an FAA spokesman said in an email Thursday.

That indecision leaves Atlantic Cape Community College officials trying to figure out what do with a new air traffic control degree program that includes a $600,000 state-of-the-art control tower simulation system paid for with grants.

College officials said they hope to integrate air traffic into a more general degree program that will give students more options, but also keep the air traffic program operating for when the FAA begins taking new applications. Among those options include training as a pilot and airport management.

"There is so much uncertainty," said Otto Hernandez, associate dean of Aviation and Technology Studies at Atlantic Cape. "We certainly have had that conversation about whether we should just scrap the (air traffic) program, but I'm against it. We have so much invested in it. Our goal is an Aviation Academy that links to NextGen and the Aviation Research Park and jobs. I think if we scrap the program, we are just throwing up the white flag on aviation in South Jersey."

The NextGen Aviation Technology and Research Park under development in Egg Harbor Township next to the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center has the potential for at least 2,000 new jobs in aviation- and technology-related fields as the FAA moves toward implementing the new NextGen air traffic control system.

Atlantic Cape officials have been developing programs to meet the prospective job demand, and saw air traffic control as a perfect fit. The tower simulator is set to be the cornerstone of a new science, technology, engineering and math building on the college campus in Mays Landing.

When college officials were developing the program in 2008 and 2009, they were told by the FAA that new applications would be accepted for the CTI program in 2010, Hernandez said. In May 2010, they were told the timeline had been pushed back to 2011. Atlantic Cape accepted its first class of 88 students into the program in January under the assumption that they would be accepted. But so far the college cannot even apply.

"I have an application that's been sitting for one and a half years," Hernandez said. "I even sent our packet up to them, hoping they might accept it. They said we're doing great, but the answer is still no, they're not taking applications."

There are 36 CTI-approved programs at both two-year and four-year colleges in the United States. Air traffic controllers do not have to attend college, but current job postings favor CTI-program graduates. The college programs do not guarantee graduates a job, but prepare them to take the AT-SAT exam. Their score on that exam determines whether applicants are eligible for a job and can be accepted into the FAA air traffic training program in Oklahoma. They must pass that program to get a job.

Hernandez said many of the four-year college programs include air traffic control as just one career track because there is no job guarantee. Atlantic Cape is working to develop transfer agreements with several CTI-approved four-year colleges so students could also earn a bachelor's degree. The college is also developing its own new programs, including pilot's license, flight attendant, airport relations, airport management and aerospace engineering. The pilot program would be developed with private schools at local airports and could be available by September.

"We would subcontract out to the private schools, but the lessons would be part of the academic program so students could use financial aid to help pay for it," Hernandez said.

College officials also have contacted U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, who contacted the FAA and also was told there is a moratorium on applications for the CTI program.

LoBiondo spokesman Jon Galanes sent an email Thursday saying the congressman strongly supports the air traffic control degree program, which is one part of the multipronged approach to making South Jersey the premier location for aviation research, training and development.

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