Avi­a­tion pro­gram at UH-Hilo awaits clear­ance

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - COMMUNITY - By KIRSTEN JOHN­SON Email Kirsten John­son at kjohn­son@hawai­itri­bune­herald.com.

A long-awaited four-year avi­a­tion pro­gram could take off this year at Univer­sity of Hawaii at Hilo.

The UH Board of Re­gents’ Com­mit­tee on Aca­demic and Stu­dent Af­fairs is set to vote to­day whether to add the pro­gram for the fall se­mes­ter. If ap­proved, the pro­posal would go to a full board vote and ul­ti­mately be im­ple­mented un­der “pro­vi­sional sta­tus.”

Pro­grams with pro­vi­sional sta­tus can ac­cept stu­dents and of­fer classes, said Matthew Platz, vice chan­cel­lor for aca­demic af­fairs at UH-Hilo. If suc­cess­ful, they’re con­tin­ued on a per­ma­nent ba­sis.

UH-Hilo has con­sid­ered adding an avi­a­tion pro­gram for years but the idea has never come into fruition. Do­ing so would be com­pli­cated and costly, Platz said, and his­tor­i­cally has had “many skep­tics who ask very good ques­tions.”

“It took us some time to do some due dili­gence to cre­ate a pro­posal that an­swered all of those good ques­tions,” he said.

Last year, the late state Sen. Gil Ka­hele, D-Hilo, spon­sored a bill that would have ap­pro­pri­ated fund­ing to help the avi­a­tion pro­gram get started.

That bill didn’t pass but cam­pus of­fi­cials con­tin­ued vet­ting the topic. The pro­gram as cur­rently pro­posed ini­tially would be funded with re­serve money. Even­tu­ally, it would be sus­tained us­ing tu­ition rev­enue.

The cam­pus es­ti­mates 20 res­i­dent stu­dents will en­ter the pro­gram each year. Those stu­dents would grad­u­ate with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in aero­nau­ti­cal sciences and im­me­di­ately be el­i­gi­ble for a range of jobs, in­clud­ing mil­i­tary pi­lot, bush pi­lot and flight in­struc­tor.

State Sen. Kai Ka­hele, son of Gil Ka­hele and a com­mer­cial pi­lot for Hawai­ian Air­lines, called an avi­a­tion pro­gram a po­ten­tial “game changer for East Hawaii and the econ­omy.” Ka­hele said he en­vi­sions it be­ing the first of many at the Hilo cam­pus in avi­a­tion, aero­space and astron­omy fields.

It would be the first fouryear col­le­giate avi­a­tion pro­gram in the state, Ka­hele said, and many em­ploy­ers pre­fer com­mer­cial pi­lots to have four-year de­grees.

Honolulu Com­mu­nity Col­lege of­fered a twoyear com­mer­cial avi­a­tion de­gree un­til last year.

“This is a re­ally big deal,” Ka­hele said. “Most stu­dents in Hawaii who want to be a com­mer­cial air­line pi­lot go to the main­land to go to a four-year in­sti­tu­tion. We’re try­ing to give them an op­tion to do that in Hawaii. I firmly be­lieve this pro­gram has the po­ten­tial to be one of the big­gest at the UH-Hilo.”



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