After the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, the University of Illinois will no longer have an aviation program. In a 6-2 vote on July 21st, the university’s Board of Trustees elected to close their Institute of Aviation.
The institute has a long history, stretching from as far back as 1946, of graduating pilots for the airlines, aviation industry, and government. The Civil Aeronautics Authority (the pre-FAA era government overseeing aviation) issued the program the first airman pilot examining agency certificate on May 29, 1950.
The July 21st vote to shut down the program is a part of a package of cost-cutting measures designed to help balance the school budget. The decision is not without controversy, however, as it opposes a faculty senate decision not to shut down the program. Unfortunately, proposed savings of $500,000 to $750,000 a year from closing the program coupled with declining enrollment has overshadowed the institute’s graduation rate. The only hope for the program seems to be the Illinois Board of Higher Education, who must approve the closure, or some out of the box thinking.
Program supporters are currently investigating methods to allow the institute to continue offering flight-training opportunity. Specifically, supporters are currently seeking out other schools who might have interest in establishing flight training programs and discussing ways the institute can support those initiatives.
According to the program’s chief pilot, 160 students had enrolled in program courses for the spring. She indicated that the program seems to have fallen out of favor rather than become unviable. The program director quit five years ago and no replacement has been hired. Instead, there have been persistent rumors of the program’s imminent closure which certainly had an effect on the enrollment numbers.
Despite their size, the smallest program on the Urbana-Champaign campus, the program has graduated a number of very successful graduates currently working in all areas of the aviation industry. Their training fleet, which includes 18 Piper Archers, seven Piper Arrows, three Piper Seminoles, and two Cessna 152s. With only one aircraft with a glass cockpit, this is hardly an excessively costly fleet considering the level of enrollment.
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