It seems once again the fate of my alma mater, The University of Illinois Institute of Aviation, is up in the air (sorry). [Daily Illini: Board of Trustees to Consider Institute of Aviation Closure Thursday.] This is nothing new. When I attended school there, oh, (or do I say Gaaa!) twenty-five years ago, they were considering closing the Institute back then. The intellectual muckety-mucks higher up at the University have always considered learning to fly to be a trade as opposed to an academic persuasion. In this respect, they’d probably get along pretty well with airline management when it comes to deciding to pay us what we’re worth. Regardless, I wonder if this is truly how all of them feel when they, and their children, set foot on a 400,000 pound jet to go for a ride.
It’s no secret Air Traffic Controller errors are on the rise. Wonder why that is? In April I wrote the following letter to Senator Durbin. It sums up my take on both of these issues and why I think they’re related.
Dear Senator Durbin,
I would like to applaud your call for an investigation into the controller errors at O'Hare! [Durbin urges probe of O'Hare controller errors ] I would also like to ask for any help you can give in trying to prevent the University of Illinois from closing the Institute of Aviation, and I believe these two issues are similar.
The caliber of people in controller training now has changed. Here's a link to the government's ATC website [www.faa.gov] The way I read it, you can graduate high school, work at McDonald's for three years and then have the experience necessary to train with ATC. A four-year degree is no longer required. Is this the quality of people we want to entrust our lives with? I believe there's no mere coincidence between this standard and the increase in controller errors.
Since I was a student at The University of Illinois Institute of Aviation, the University has frowned upon the Institute, seeing it as a "trade school," as though it is somehow beneath them. And yet they love the Agriculture School. Isn't farming a trade as well? Although I imagine they know better where their bread is buttered in our agricultural state.
In thirty years of flying, every pilot I have flown with who has trained at the University of Illinois has been excellent. To a person. Every one. It didn't matter if they graduated years before or years after me, I knew when I climbed into a cockpit with an Institute grad, I would find a sharp, intelligent and superior pilot.
There are other flight schools out there, but the advantage of schools associated with a great University like the University of Illinois is in the caliber of the people it attracts and who can gain admission. If the University should choose to close the Institute of Aviation it will be to the detriment of the future of the flying profession. Where you train does make a difference. While flying a jet may or may not be a trade, it takes quite a bit of intelligence and skill. I would hate to see the standards slip in this sector in the same way it appears to be trending for ATC.
The closing of the University of Illinois Institute of Aviation and the trend it portends is something all future airline passengers have a stake in. Their safety, their very lives, depend on it.
To back up my point, earlier this month, the Tribune ran this story, [Chicago Tribune: controller washouts], which states,
"They've (new controllers) been coming in hot and heavy for four years and we haven't had a completely successful one go all the way yet to full-performance level," said James Hall, a controller who is the union representative at the Terminal Radar Approach Control center, or TRACON, in Elgin.
The track record has been that about half of the experienced controllers who transferred to the TRACON and 80 percent of the new hires fail during initial training, officials said.
I suppose controllers and pilots don’t need a college education to do what we do. Because, after all, how much education do I need to be an expert on aerodynamics, hydraulics, electronics, pneumatics, meteorology, or to know how many transmissometers I have to have operational in order to shoot a CAT IIIA approach? See, it’s all so simple. Anybody can do it. And if aviation education trends keep heading the way they are, anyone will.
Safe travels, y’all.
The University of Illinois Institute of Aviation is hosting an informational picket outside the Board of Trustees meeting this Thursday July 21 at 7:00 a.m., UIC Student Center West, Chicago Rooms B and C, 828 South Wolcott Avenue, Chicago
My letter to Senator Durbin was edited slightly for length.
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