JCC President Dan Phelan said this week that school officials will cut the flight program’s budget by reducing staff.
The flight school spent $35,000 more on operations than it took in for the 2010-11 school year, according to Thomas Vainner, vice president of administrative operations at JCC.
“We’ll evaluate based on the number of students that are enrolled and ultimately the number of hours they are flying,” Phelan said.
The flight school has 30 to 40 students, down from 138 in 2003-04 and 92 in 2007-08.
Phelan said he believes there’s “an efficiency that can be realized” by cutting maintenance expenses. As enrollment has declined, there are fewer flight hours on the school-owned aircraft.
Mike Bartholomew, a full-time aviation mechanic at the school, said he has always been proud of the college’s commitment to aviation excellence, but senses JCC’s devotion is waning.
“This commitment must be wearing thin when flight center positions are (possibly) being eliminated,” he said. “One can only hope this current board and administration will not be remembered for the inevitable closure of this important historic program.”
Jeff Fisher, the flight school’s director of aviation technology, said contracting someone part-time to perform maintenance on the school’s five aircraft would compromise the safety of airplanes and students because often Bartholomew spends “eight hours in one day doing maintenance.”
“A lot of these airports (students fly into) don’t have mechanics at them, so we’re compromising safety. We are compromising for our students,” he said.
Phelan vowed that “quality and maintenance will not be compromised” as the college makes cuts in the next several months.
It’s not the first-time the flight school’s future has been cloudy. In 2005, a $200,000 gift from the Weatherwax Foundation ensured the school would stay afloat.
Without the flight school, the airport could encounter troubles of its own. The airport’s tower receives money based on the number of flights.
“It helps keep the number of landings and takeoffs at optimal levels because that all relates to funding for our air traffic control tower and indirectly for the priority we get for bigger projects,” said Airport Manager Kent Maurer, who noted he does not get involved with JCC’s administrative decisions.
In 2010 more than $500,000 in county funds were spent on airport operations. Maurer said that number would have to increase if federal funding declined.
Maurer said the airport would “be much less safe” if it were to ever lose its air traffic control tower, because of low visibility on the runways due to building obstructions and terrain.
He said another less-direct impact is that business people might then land at other airports due to safety concerns, further decreasing the airport’s traffic.
Phelan said he has had preliminary conversations with Lansing Community College about developing a relationship with students from its aviation flight program, which ended in May. He also said he is looking for grant money to keep JCC’s flight school viable.
As published in the Jackson Citizen Patriot on June 16, 2011