Auburn University's pilot school up in the air

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Aug. 27--Auburn University's professional flight management program can no longer operate as a pilot school, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The program does not have a chief flight instructor after a May incident with the school's Cessna 172 RG was followed by the resignation of Dr. Rae Williams.

The resignation came after an unidentified student pilot flying with Williams landed the Cessna with its landing gear up at the Auburn University Regional Airport on May 28.

Under Part 141 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, if a flight school does not have a chief flight instructor for more than 60 days, it can no longer operate.

"Without a chief flight instructor, any entity that has certification as a pilot school can't operate," said Kathleen Bergen, spokesperson for the FAA Southern Region. "So the college (Auburn) surrendered its certificate."

Dr. Joe Hanna, chair and professor of AU's aviation and supply chain management program, said the school surrendered its Part 141 pilot school certificate, but Auburn no longer being able to operate as a pilot school is "not the way that I understand the regulations. From an industry perspective, we regularly talk about Part 141 and Part 61 schools."

"It seems odd to me that they would let us continue to operate then. I think there's somewhere we're getting caught up in definitional interpretations of the code. Because there are a lot of flight schools out there that operate under Part 61 of the FAA regulations."

But Bergen said Part 61 of the regulations deals with individual pilot certification, not pilot schools.

Auburn "does not right now have a pilot school certification," she said.

However, pilots who have flight instructor certifications under Part 61 of the regulations can still teach students how to fly.

"Auburn had an FAA certificate to operate as a pilot school," Bergen said. "(After Williams' resignation) the college surrendered that certificate to the FAA in accordance with regulations."

Hanna said one of the biggest changes the school has encountered since the resignation of Williams is that the flight management program can no longer certify pilots because it does not have a chief flight instructor to give the certification exams.

"We can't do our own examinations internally with our own personnel staff," he said. "However, what we've done is contracted with a designated pilot examiner to come down here and give them (the exams) on our behalf."

Hanna said having the examiner come to the school allows students to take their certification tests in the same aircraft in which they have done their training. The school has contacted the students to make them aware of the change.

"We have communicated with them," he said. "We sent them several e-mails and told them we are temporarily operating under Part 61 (of the Federal Aviation Regulations). Most of them are fine with it."

The program is currently in the process of finding a new chief flight instructor, Hanna said.

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