MSU's flight training on chopping block


Jan. 29--MANKATO -- As North Star Aviation showed off flight simulators during an open house Thursday, the specter of the Minnesota State University aviation program being on the chopping block was in the air.

North Star, based at the Mankato Regional Airport, provides the flight training for MSU students. MSU administration listed the program as one of those they may need to cut in light of huge state budget shortfalls.

"Mankato is the shining star of aviation training," said Mark Smith, president and general manager of North Star.

MSU officials ranked programs targeted for possible cuts, in part, by using a matrix showing the number of full-time students in each program, costs per student and whether the program has grown or shrunk in recent years.

Smith said they hope to convince MSU officials that unusual circumstances led to a temporary decline in aviation students and that more current data show steady growth.

MSU compared data from 200304 to 2007-08 to show growth or decline.

Smith said the years following 9/11 saw a decline in aviation students across the country. And the

MSU program had earlier gone through years of turmoil after a popular aviation professor was removed at MSU. At the same time, MSU changed contracts, going with Thunderbird Aviation instead of longtime trainer North Star, to teach students.

Smith said those events all led to declines, which are being reversed. North Star returned as the flight training provider in2006.

In the past three years, for example, the program grew from 4,353 flight training hours in 2007 to 6,299 hours last year.

Jason Ceminsky, a trainer and an aviation adjunct faculty member at MSU, said he knows the university will face big budget decisions and knows that aviation is a higher cost program.

"I just hope they use the real numbers," he said.

He said that with Delta Airlinesnow in Minnesota and a large number of pilots retiring in the next few years, there is projected to be a shortage of thousands of pilots in the next decade.

Ceminsky also said the aviation majors at MSU are not the only MSU students using the aviation program.

To be a commercial pilot, a student needs a four-year degree. But the degree does not have to be in aviation. Many students, Ceminsky said, major in business or otherareas while also getting their pilot's training through the MSU aviation program and North Star.

Smith said the Mankato aviation program is the second largest, behind the University of North Dakota, in the five-state region.

MSU programs identified for possible elimination have an opportunity to appeal and make their case before the administration.

Final decisions are expected March 1.