A meeting held Friday to discuss the future of Auburn University's embattled Aviation Management program ended with College of Business Dean Dr. Bill Hardgrave promising to save and improve the program, but students and alumni are not fully pleased with all they heard.
"We're putting a plan in place that addresses some recent challenges and puts the program in a position to grow," said Hardgrave, who is recommending it continue to operate under the College of Business.
Hardgrave said the Aviation Management program will get better facilities and other improvements designed to make it available to more students and responsive to changes in the aviation industry.
While the Aviation Management program may be saved, alumni said there was "shock" in the boardroom full of industry leaders, professors, flight education employees, students, parents and alumni that Hardgrave plans to "sunset" the Aviation Management Profession Flight Program, effectively terminating it.
Hardgrave says the University is exploring options including one recommendation that would involve partnering with a commercial firm that would allow the expansion of flight training beyond students in the College of Business. Hardgrave said outsourcing flight education to a professional flight school, or PFS, partner would provide the opportunity for flight instruction to any Auburn student, community member, Southern Union student, Tuskegee University student or high school student wishing to obtain pilot ratings or simply learn to fly.
"This decision puts in jeopardy Auburn University's recent agreement with JetBlue Airways," the students and alumni said in a statement. "It also puts our long-standing relationships with corporations and other segments of the industry in peril."
Auburn is one of just four universities in the country to offer the Gateway Program with JetBlue, helping pilots fly for major air carriers in half the time.
Those in the meeting say Dr. Hardgrave originally said he wasn't planning on coming to the meeting, but when he arrived he read a prepared statement and then "hastily departed without engaging those in attendance."
"While we are pleased that he chose to retain the Aviation Management program, the decision to close the flight program falls well short of our stated goal and desire of maintaining our nationally recognized flight program," students and alumni, collectively working through FlyAuburn.org, said. Auburn has offered aviation education since 1941.
"The Dean's announcement today is extremely disappointing," said alumni Lee Mills, who now works with FedEx. "His decision to eventually close the states only 4-year accredited flight training program without input from alumni, students and industry is a travesty."
"It is a huge loss for the Auburn Family, the State of Alabama and the industry that relies on Auburn aviation graduates," added fellow alumni Jason Mohrman, who now works for United Airlines.
Hardgrave thinks otherwise. "By having a major in aviation management, the legacy of aviation at Auburn is preserved," said Hardgrave. "It also helps promote the aviation industries in the state by providing graduates who are well-prepared to work in the field."
The students and alumni working to save the program, under the name Fly Auburn, contend that Dean Hardgrave's decision to end the Professional Flight Program "was premature and based upon erroneous and substantially misleading information." They called the numbers quoted in the meeting "inaccurate and misleading" and say Dean Hardgrave was consistently offered assistance and guidance during the review process but he, "systematically denied input from the advisory board, students, parents and alumni."
The program's fate became uncertain after it lost two faculty members, one who died and the other who announced his retirement effective later in May. Without more faculty, the program would have lost its accreditation with the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI).
"Auburn is one of the few institutions in the nation that owns its own airport and offers aviation management," said Auburn Provost Tim Boosinger. "We are excited about the future and the program's opportunities and look forward to working with the Aviation Accreditation Board International to maintain the program's accreditation."
For those wishing to move into flying as a career, the PFS partner will provide an FAA-certified program leading toward an Airline Transport Pilot, or ATP, certification. By opening the flight school to all students and community members, Hardgrave says the number of flight students would likely increase, thus bringing additional funding to the Auburn University Regional Airport.
"The increased opportunity for enrollment should also further the state's aviation presence by producing more aviation professionals," Hardgrave added.
The plan also includes recommendations for improved facilities at the Auburn University Regional Airport. Flight simulators currently housed in an off-campus facility will be relocated to the airport once improved facilities are available. "Overall, the plan allows for short-term improvements that lead to long-term solutions," Boosinger said.
Auburn University will refer the existing degree in professional flight management to the University Senate's Academic Program Review Committee for review and if the program is discontinued will work with the enrolled students to ensure they are able to complete their degrees.
Alumni of the program, which numbers more than 4,000 worldwide, say they'll continue to look for support to maintain AABI accreditation in "ALL" aspects of Auburn University Aviation Management.
INFORMATION SOURCE: Auburn University and FlyAuburn.org
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