Why MSU-Mankato isn't cutting its aviation program

Still trying to work out the career outlook for aviation -- and the practicality of hosting a state-run university program -- in light of St. Cloud State's high-profile decision to cut its well-known aviation program.

The point made in a recent Star Tribune article is that the aviation business is on an upswing, and the demand is there for a program such as St. Cloud's. And one Michigan instructor said St. Cloud was cutting its program at the wrong time.

But in the past week, I've read that the University of Illinois is also cutting its aviation program -- with its students and instructors saying demand for pilots is on the upswing.

Laura Gerhold, academic adviser for the program, told the Associated Press:

"The industry is forecasting a huge demand for pilots. We're no longer going to be producing pilots for that pilot pool."

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Then yesterday I get news from Minnesota State University - Mankato that the university is, in a fashion, ramping up its department by taking on Chinese students through an agreement with their government:

Minnesota State Mankato, China Officials Expect Aviation Education Partnership Agreement Soon

Minnesota State University, Mankato officials expect to sign an agreement soon that will let aviation students from China study at Minnesota State Mankato, and take flight training at Mankato Regional Airport.

The groundbreaking agreement means that Minnesota State Mankato will help Chinese officials develop new policies for China’s emerging general aviation industry.

“You will be helping China to write its history of general aviation,” the leader of a Chinese delegation told Minnesota State Mankato officials Monday at the conclusion of a three-day visit to Mankato.

Changdong Xu, chair of the new All-China Helicopter Association and chairman of the Western Returned Scholars Association’s Entrepreneur Alliance, told Minnesota State Mankato President Richard Davenport and City of Mankato officials that he hopes an agreement can be signed within the next 90 days that will lead to a new aviation partnership.

“We’re starting China’s general aviation industry from step one,” Xu told the officials during a meeting at the university. “Everyone here is a pioneer in Chinese general aviation history.”

“We are honored to be selected as China’s partner in this new initiative,” Davenport said. “We look forward to finalizing the details of this historic educational partnership.”

At present China has fewer than 1,000 private aircraft and virtually no general aviation industry, compared with hundreds of thousands of private aircraft and a robust general aviation industry in the United States.

Xu recently was named to lead China’s general aviation initiative to develop private aircraft policies and systems in China. He visited Mankato last year to urge the university to provide flight training for civilian emergency management pilots and students from China.

Davenport and other delegates from the university and the city then visited China to discuss how the university, the city and North Star Aviation could help China train more commercial helicopter pilots.

The first-of-its-kind agreement will create a bilateral working panel that will develop programs to provide Chinese students with training for five aircraft ratings. Students will be taught by Minnesota State Mankato faculty and instructors for North Star Aviation at Mankato Regional Airport. After completing the program, each pilot will have the option of receiving a completion certificate or undergraduate degree from Minnesota State Mankato.

In compliance with China’s prerequisites for pilot training, North Star Aviation recently completed the Federal Aviation Administration 141 certification for flight training. The certification allows the university and North Star to train international students as well as traditional aviation program students.

Mark Smith, president of North Star Aviation, believes the additional certification opens more flight training options while keeping safety as the university’s and North Star’s main objective.

China is seeking hundreds of new rotary and fixed-wing pilots to develop its civilian air rescue and emergency medical evacuation capability. The project is part of a larger Chinese goal of creating an emergency rescue center in every province, region and municipality of China.

Xu is recognized as part of the New China business leadership and has worked closely with high-level state officials from China.

So is globalization -- or at least the recruitment of foreign students and contracts -- the key to success here?