Saturday | August 27, 2016
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Funding sought for flight college

Organizers of a proposed flight training center at Hilo International Airport are requesting nearly $500,000 to complete plans for the program, which will serve University of Hawaii and Hawaii Community College students.

Last year, $100,000 was appropriated to begin the first steps into launching the program. To that end, University of Hawaii at Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney hired on aviation program expert Ray Bédard, of Prescott, Ariz. Bédard had recently retired after a long career in aviation, most recently serving as an assistant professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

In an interview Monday, Bédard said he is currently wrapping up some of the research and curriculum development he’s been working on since he started on the project in September. All the information he has garnered will be included in an Authorization to Plan report, which must be approved by UH academic officers in order for the program launch to continue.

“We’re within weeks of getting that approved, I think,” he said. “The next step after that would be full implementation.”

According to a report summary, UHH could theoretically launch in August 2015 with 25 students, offering a Baccalaureate of Science in Aeronautical Science, with training following three tracks: fixed wing professional pilots, fixed wing flight education pilots, and remotely piloted aircraft systems.

The degree would require eight semesters and students could complete them within 2.5 years. Flight revenue generated from each student has been estimated to be $13,923, with the school operating at a more than $200,000 loss its first year.

“The next year, it would break into the black, though,” Bédard said. “And it would go up from there.”

Bédard estimates the school could be bringing in more than $1.6 million in revenue by the 2019-2020 academic year.

“It’s going to be huge in the next four or five years for three main reasons. One of the main reasons is that there are a lot of pilots retiring. Five years ago, they extended the retirement age (for airline pilots) from 60 to 65, and now they’re all getting ready to retire. The second factor is that the FAA … mandated that minimums (on the number of flight hours of experience necessary before being hired) are going to be much higher for regional airline pilots. And third, our economy is expanding, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Boeing says there will be demand for 192,000 new pilots, in the Asia-Pacific region alone in the next few years,” he said. “Hawaii is situated right in the middle of this. It’s the perfect spot to offer flight training.”

According to Bédard’s report, Hawaii Community College could begin its Associate Degree in Applied Science in helicopter operations with 10 students in the spring of 2016. The degree would require five semesters of classes, totalling 1.5 years of study.

Flight revenue of $13,934 would be generated per student at HCC, with the program losing $62,000 its first year. From there, revenue would grow to $1,455,000 by the 2019-2020 academic year.

But before the program can become a reality, Bédard said, legislators must find funding to complete planning. Initially, the schools would hire contractors to provide the flight training services, before eventually hiring their own faculty members and remodeling temporary classroom facilities at the Hilo Airport Cargo &General Aviation Terminal.

Last week, two bills were introduced in both chambers of the Legislature — Senate Bill 3092 and House Bill 1967. Both request up to $450,000 for fiscal year 2014-15 to fund the program coordinator and technical support staff to complete the necessary planning required to launch the international flight training center and associated aeronautical training programs at UHH and HCC.

Email Colin M. Stewart at


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