Parkland to take on University’s Institute of Aviation

The University’s Institute of Aviation will be taken over by Parkland College for the low price of $1 a year, as finalized in an intergovernmental agreement signed Wednesday.

The 2013-2014 school year is the last year that the Institute of Aviation will be open to University students. In September 2010, President Robert Easter, then interim chancellor and provost, called the institute’s economic viability into question after 65 years on campus, putting forth a recommendation that the institute be closed to save the University between $500,000 and $750,000 annually. In July 2011, the Board of Trustees voted 6-2 to close the institute, despite protests by members of both the institute and the Urbana-Champaign Senate.

However, there is still hope for aspiring aviation students in the Champaign-Urbana community. Parkland College will open an aviation program that will allow students to obtain a two-year aviation-related Associate of Science degree. Students can take courses and complete pilot training at the University-owned Willard Airport in Savoy.

As part of the agreement, the University will lease Willard’s aircraft and facilities to Parkland for just $1 a year, said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler. Additionally, $250,000 of the institute’s funds will be given to Parkland for marketing purposes, and another $3 million will be given to the college over the course of the transition.

Tom Ramage, president of Parkland College, said the University’s generous actions to help start the Parkland aviation program speaks of its willingness to provide a source of education for potential aviators.

“(The University) could have decided to perhaps make a profit on the (facilities) as opposed to leasing it,” Ramage said. “That cooperation was spectacular.”

He also noted that the University is starting a pathway program where students can complete flight training at Parkland while obtaining a bachelor’s degree at the University.

The University is not the only organization helping to get Parkland’s program on its feet. Riverside Research, a not-for-profit engineering company with a division in Champaign, is providing support to Parkland College in terms of operating and maintaining the aircraft.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is to provide a service to the students,” said Randy Sandone, who oversees Riverside Research’s collaboration with Parkland.

Sandone explained that there is an “impending shortage of pilots” in the nation due to the retirement of the baby boomer age and an increase in air travel outside of the United States. While educating private and commercial pilots is a new endeavor for Riverside Research, the company hopes to prepare a new generation of aviation specialists, even training them on more modern aircraft with computerized navigation systems.

Although the closing of the University’s Institute of Aviation was a disappointment for many students and faculty alike, the joint partnership between Parkland College, the University and Riverside Research may act as a substitute for students pursuing aviation. Ryan Yochum, senior in the Institute of Aviation, said the program is a great opportunity for future generations.

“I think it’s a way better alternative because aviation is booming right now,” he said. “Every other Big Ten school has flight programs. It would (have been) a shame for U of I to get rid of that completely and to not realize that this is a golden age for aviation.”

Zila can be reached at [email protected]

Clarification: In 2010, President Robert Easter was the interim chancellor and provost.