Man checks gauges on the inside of an airplane
The WCCC aviation program includes essential learning, coursework and flight instruction.


Aviation program enrollment soars

There are 5,000 aircraft in the sky at any given time, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. And it takes about 10 pilots to keep one plane in the air, said Western Colorado Community College Aviation Program Director Gary Chrisco. Currently, there is a pilot shortage that if not managed could have negative implications on the aviation industry including canceled flights due to lack of crew, he said.

“With the shortage of pilots, there has never been a better time in aviation to pursue a career in flying,” Chrisco said.

The WCCC Aviation Technology Fixed-Wing program began in 2016 with three students. Just one year later the program has gained 11 new students hailing from Grand Junction, Delta, Nucla, Evergreen, Colorado Springs and La Junta.

More than 300 percent growth in a program in one year is remarkable, even if the total number of students in the aviation program is now 13. Aviation programs tend to be smaller compared to other college programs like business or exercise science. “One-hundred students in an aviation program would be huge,” said Chrisco.

The main reason for smaller aviation programs is that they are expensive. Along with essential learning and ground courses, the school must also provide about 250 hours of flight instruction. WCCC has partnered with Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely to be able to provide the flight portion.

“To support five to six students you need at least one plane,” Chrisco said. “And a good used plane is $120,000 and new is $400,000.”

The aviation program may be expensive to provide but the career opportunities for students after they graduate are ample. The current pilot shortage extends across the aviation industry from commercial airlines to corporate to charter.

“We know our students can graduate with their associate's, become a flight instructor to get their flight hours and, within two years, be making $40,000 to $60,000,” Chrisco said.

New programs sometimes take awhile to take flight but the aviation program is on a good path for growth with Chrisco’s ultimate goal of enrolling and instructing 80 students.

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