ST. CLOUD -- As baby boomers gear up for retirement it has left the aviation industry struggling to replace positions quickly. Boeing, for example, is estimating that over the next 20 years, North America will need about 117,000 more pilots.

With this growing need, colleges and universities are starting to ramp up their aviation programs. Most recently, Rochester Community and Technical College announced they are looking at starting an Aviation Pilot Education Program. If the program is approved, the college says it will be designed for students to get an associate's degree in aviation and then transfer to Minnesota State University, Mankato to finish their bachelor's degree.

Here in St. Cloud, St. Cloud State University discontinued their aviation program in 2011. The last students graduated from the program in 2014. As for the future, St. Cloud State says they are not considering bringing back the program leaving just one option for Central Minnesota students who wish to soar the sky, Wright Aero.

Wright Aero is the only flight school in Central Minnesota and a former partner to the SCSU aviation program. Bill Mavencamp is the owner of Wright Aero. He says they currently have four flight instructors, about 10 less than they had at their peak in 2009.

"You can see what we've gone down to, it's going to be difficult to build back up with the lack of new pilots in the industry. Especially new local pilots, it's difficult to talk to a new flight instructor, who lives in Florida, to move to Minnesota."

When Wright Aero partnered with SCSU, students would do all of their coursework at the university and do all of their actual flying through Wright Aero. Mavencamp says to be able to get more pilots trained in the St. Cloud area, he thinks St. Cloud Technical and Community College should start an aviation program and focus on the groundwork similar to how the former SCSU program was set up.

"Most likely we [Wright Aero] would try to participate again on the flying part. I wouldn't care much if they [SCTCC] did it all on their own if they were so equipped and could do so. The St. Cloud State University program, one of the reasons it was canceled, is that the president at that time thought that [aviation] was more technical and trade-oriented and not what universities are necessarily known to do."

St. Cloud Technical and Community College says they are considering creating an aviation program. Mike Mendez is the Dean of Trades and Industry at SCTCC. However, he says the plans are very preliminary.

"SCTCC is exploring the possibility of an Aviation Program.  As with all new program ideas, we are doing background research.  This involved looking at the future needs, employment trends and talking with stakeholders.  We are also looking at the accrediting agency requirements and to see if there are models elsewhere in the country that serve as best practice. Currently, no decision has been made as to the outcome of this research."

Before the St. Cloud State University program was discontinued, on average Mavencamp says about 200 students were learning through Wright Aero. If a program through either institution was to start up again, Mavencamp thinks it would take about 5-10 years to get it to the successful point of the former St. Cloud State program.

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