by Jim Bildilli
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2018/January 2019 issue
The North Dakota Aeronautics Commission has received the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) “Aviation Education Program Award” for its 2018 Flight Training Assistance Program (FTAP). FTAP was selected for programs initiated by state aviation agencies that promote aviation education. In this case, the commission not only promoted aviation, but also created an economic stimulus that increased the level of aviation activities at smaller rural airports.
Most of us have been made acutely aware of the shortage of pilots, mechanics and trained technicians through our own experience or by just reading about it. The current personnel shortages and the future shortfalls are in the tens and hundreds of thousands and have been documented by both private and governmental agencies. Several communities have seen the reduction and even cancellation of air service due to the lack of trained aviation personnel. Similarly, we have all noticed that the average age of pilots has been increasing.
Noticing the decline in pilots, based aircraft and aircraft activity at most airports, and especially at smaller rural facilities, the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission has been committed to reverse this trend. It didn’t take long for them to recognize that a major factor for the declining numbers was the lack of flight instructors, which was more problematic at smaller rural airports. The commission determined that covering travel expenses for instructors from their home base of operation to serve another community would help cure the problem.
In 2006, the commission developed FTAP which is a program that would provide financial assistance to small rural airports by partially subsidizing the cost of bringing a flight instructor to their community. For those airports wanting to participate in the program, the commission will reimburse 75% of all associated costs. The remaining 25% will be covered by the local airport authority. To qualify, an airport cannot be served by an active flight instructor, and it cannot have more than one aircraft available for flight instruction. A written agreement between the commission and the local airport outlines the reimbursement program, which must be renewed annually. A minimum of three (3) hours of instruction must be given with each visit, but it is not limited to one student.
More than 15 airports have participated in the program thus far including Ashley, Beach, Beulah, Bowman, Carrington, Dickinson, Enderlin, Hazen, Jamestown, Kindred, Kulm, New Rockford, Tioga, Washburn and Williston. Since its inception, over 100 students have participated in the program. Their skill levels range from Student Pilot to those seeking to become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). The program also extends to include tailwheel endorsements and biennial flight reviews. The average annual cost to the State of North Dakota is approximately $2,500.00 per year. Recently, it has risen to nearly $5,000.00 due to inflation and increased participation. While food and lodging are eligible expense items, most reimbursements are for air or ground transportation of the instructor to the airport from their home base.
In addition to increasing the number of pilots in North Dakota, the program has provided an economic stimulus by increasing fuel and aircraft sales, and hangar occupancy.
One of the success stories of the program is Jessica Herman of Kulm, North Dakota. Jessica was initially headed for a career in medicine, but instead chose a career in aviation after discovering the freedom and exhilaration one experiences with flight in her grandfather’s airplane. Her grandfather, Lorence Holmgren, manages the 2800 ft. grass runway at Kulm Municipal Airport. One of the major obstacles of Herman obtaining her license was the lack of locally available flight instruction. To increase the activity at Kulm Municipal Airport, the airport authority decided to participate in the FTAP program. Over a period of approximately four years, Herman not only obtained her Private Pilot Certificate, but also her Commercial and Flight Instructor Pilot Certificates, and her Instrument Rating. Herman is now giving flight instruction and helping to fill the CFI “gap” that existed when she first started flying.