Parkland picked up the flight training program after the University of Illinois’ board of regents voted in 2010 to shutter the program after four years. At the time, the aviation industry and job market looked bleak, Phillips told AOPA. The program’s elimination would have grounded the fleet of 29 training aircraft, and ended an Illinois flight training tradition that began in 1946.
Phillips, a former regional airline pilot and aviation educator from the University of Illinois, said it made sense to continue the flight training program at nearby Parkland, a two-year college known for its job-specific training and real-world learning environment that serves 20,000 students. Both colleges are located close to the University of Illinois-Willard Airport, just south of Champaign.
Parkland’s flight students will operate the same fleet of contemporary orange, blue, and white Piper Archer IIIs, Arrow IIIs, Seminoles, and Cessna 172s. The university is leasing the aircraft to Parkland College for $1 per year for the next three years until the program can be re-evaluated, she said.
“The aviation degree that we created at Parkland is designed to appeal to traditional four-year students that are also interested in a degree in aviation,” said Phillips. “We made the associate’s degree in aviation a transferable degree with the University of Illinois in mind. Those students could fly with us for the first two years and transition to Illinois to finish their four-year degree there, if they desire. Any degree from the [University of Illinois] is a valuable degree, for that credential.”
Parkland’s associate degree allows for two semesters of basic training toward a private certificate that costs about $14,500, Phillips said. Students earning a private pilot certificate can advance their training with additional courses toward an instrument rating and commercial pilot certificate that can prepare them for professional pilot careers. Flight students meet in classrooms for two hours a week and then fly one of the school’s airplanes for three two-hour aviation sessions per week.
Phillips said the university’s flight school puts a lot of faith into its own training program and hires graduating students as part-time flight instructors for the next wave of incoming freshmen.
“By far and away most of the instructors we’ve hired in the past have been our own students, but we can’t hire every one,” she said. “Other people like the flight instructors we put out too, so they are in very high demand.”
She has high hopes for the future of aviation and for the future of her new Parkland College students. “I truly think the pilot shortage is here now with the mandatory retirements we are starting to see. I’m thrilled Parkland is continuing the aviation program, it’s a great time to be a pilot and we are well-positioned to help the industry,” Phillips said.