Students in the aviation program at Southern Arkansas University-Tech in Camden returned from Christmas break to find they had a fully equipped jet to play with.
FedEx Express, based in Memphis, has donated a Boeing 727-100 aircraft to the program, which trains students to repair airplanes.
"It was almost like, `Look what Santa brought you,'" said Bill Archer, SAU-Tech's aviation program coordinator. "The guys knew we had a request in, but they had no idea we were going to get it." David P. Sutton, managing director of aircraft acquisition and sales for FedEx Express, plans to formally donate the aircraft to 2,300-student SAU-Tech during a ceremony at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Camden Regional Airport. The donation gives the nearly 40-year-old program its first jet aircraft.
Sutton said FedEx Express, the cargo airline subsidiary of the shipping corporation, has donated at least 40 planes as it retires its fleet of 40- to 45-year-old 727-100s in favor of newer and more fuel-efficient craft. He said the company typically donates about 10 planes a year.
"We have worked hard over the last few years to identify top technical training schools, museums, airport police and fire departments for receiving these donated planes," Sutton said. "We just look at the quality of the aviation programs. We have a number of requests, and we can't fulfill all of them." The two-year campus at present has about 15 full-time students in Camden and 22 students at Texarkana Regional Airport. When they graduate, they will have associate degrees in applied science in aviation maintenance technology. Students at both campuses will get to work with the jet on a rotation basis.
SAU-Tech students already have worked a bit on the jet since beginning classes Wednesday, Archer said.
"It means everything for the program," Archer said. "It's another piece of equipment that keeps us current in showing our students what they'll run into when they get out in the real world." The jet is the largest of the eight or nine airplanes in the school's fleet, Archer said. Additionally, the jet has systems aboard that SAU-Tech students formerly could learn about only through videos, slide shows or textbooks, Archer said.
This is not FedEx's first gift to the SAU-Tech aviation program, which was established in 1968. A few years ago, the company donated two jet engines for student practice.
"Now, with the proper tools, we can actually swap engines in the aircraft," Archer said.
Steve Franks, chancellor of SAU-Tech, said the program's graduates are supplying a growing industry.
"We constantly have calls here in Arkansas, Texas and the Shreveport area that are looking for graduates," he said. "It's just a great career field." Archer said several graduates of SAU-Tech's aviation program have gone on to work for FedEx. "This is our way of giving back to the industry and helping produce quality graduates of maintenance training programs," Sutton said. "A lot of kids that come out of these schools, we do hire them. So it's good all around."
This article was published 01/16/2007
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