The End of A Great Aviation Tech School Program

A Guest Editorial by Jim Freeman

JANESVILLE, WIS. – It was with great disappointment for all of us in the aviation community and our local community to watch the final destruction of the award-winning and viable Blackhawk Technical College (BTC) aviation program during the auction held May 7, 2014. The program was over 50 years old and one of the original cornerstones of BTC. Its great reputation for producing quality aviation professionals will be sorely missed in our industry.

Being born and raised in Janesville, and as a local business owner/leader, it was with greater disappointment for me to witness the total lack of interest shown by the current BTC president, BTC board, bureaucrats and politicians to keep a valuable asset to the community open. The continued mantra by all of them of education, job creation and economic development is just something they would like us to believe they support. None of them really know how to do what we business owners do every day, nor do they listen to us.

Financially, it was a no-brainer to keep the program open. It is also very disturbing that the previous president spent $2 million of taxpayer money to upgrade the aviation campus, only to have his successor close it. The reported reasons for closing the school, “no jobs in the district,” is just false. There are over 6500 aerospace and aviation jobs in the immediate region alone, with a continuing 15-year shortage of licensed mechanics, avionics technicians, pilots and engineers. The campus could have easily been expanded and we requested just that. For example, engineering would have fit very nicely into the UW-Rock County program.

With BTC’s operating budget at over $60 million a year, we find it hard to believe the current leadership could not fit the $375,000 in operating costs of the aviation campus in their “budget.” We demonstrated to them that a tuition hike alone would have covered more, if not all of the costs. The program was full with a backlog of students.

In closing, as a community, we continue to hire short-term people at our colleges and universities to make long-term decisions that will affect our community, long after their departure.

We need to hire people from our community who have the best interests of our community in mind and can work with all of our neighbors in the region. In our research, we found that the tech school system nationwide lacks oversight and accountability. That needs to change.

For all of you who rely on air transportation, please do not complain during your next delayed flight due to shortages of any of the aviation professionals in charge of your effective and safe transportation. You only have yourself, and those you elect and hire, to blame.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Freeman is president of Helicopter Specialties, Inc., located at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, Janesville, Wisconsin, and a graduate of the now defunct Blackhawk Technical College Aviation Program.

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