3 new aircraft for BBCC pilot program

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Three brand-new planes are being added to the commercial pilot training program at Big Bend Community College.

MOSES LAKE — Two single-engine trainers stood outside the Big Bend Community College pilot training center Monday morning, gleaming in the sun.

An instructor crossing the tarmac admired them as he walked by. “They shine when they’re brand-new, don’t they?” he said.

And they still have that new-plane smell.

The four-seat Piper Archers arrived Thursday, with a third due this week, said John Marc Swedburg, director of BBCC’s commercial pilot training program. A flight simulator that uses the same instrumentation is scheduled to arrive by September.

Students haven’t flown them yet, because some Federal Aviation Administration approval still is required. But they should be taking to the air “pretty quick,” he said.

The three new aircraft and simulator will bring BBCC’s pilot training fleet to 26 total planes and three simulators, Swedburg said.

The aircraft cost about $350,000 each. “They’re all paid for by student lab fees.” Paying up front gives BBCC more flexibility in its program. Because the college isn't required to allocate money for payments, “we can genuinely do what’s best for the student.”

The simulator also cost about $350,000. With the same instrument package it gives students the same experience at the instruments they would get in the air, he said. “It will give our students a lot of good training.”

The fees paid by previous students paid for these planes, Swedburg said, and fees paid by current students will pay for new aircraft for future classes.

The big difference between the new aircraft and the existing fleet is in the instrumentation, Swedburg said. “In the old days, it was a lot more stick and rudder,” Cockpits used to have an array of dials, measuring things like altitude and relative position to the ground, among others. “Now there are just two screens up there and a few buttons.” Those two screens will “run the whole airplane.” The new trainers also have upgraded GPS systems.

The Archers have the most advanced avionics systems available in that price range, Swedburg said.

Aviation program administrators keep track of industry standards, and work to match the program to industry preferences.

Currently the program has 88 students, Swedburg said, which is about the maximum possible with the current number of instructors. Commercial pilot training is in high demand these days, both because the aviation industry is expanding and because a substantial number of experienced pilots are retiring.

Pilot training is expensive, but “we (BBCC) are definitely more reasonable than most.” Big Bend’s two-year program is about $65,000 for students who live on campus. Students graduate with an AA degree as well as the pilot training.

The program started in 1965, and in the 53 years since its graduates have worked in every phase of aviation. “About every airline you can think of, we have alumni there,” Swedburg said. “They (program alumni) are our best recruiters.”

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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