CCBC putting aspiring aviators on right course

Flight training program is largest in Maryland

April 21, 2002|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Two years after switching careers to follow his dream of becoming a commercial pilot, Mark Yingling, 30, of Springfield, Va., is just a few months away from earning the right to charge for his services.

Christopher Crews, 17, of Brooklyn Park was playing with model rockets and radio-control planes five years ago. Now, he has logged more than 65 hours of flight time and passed the exams to be licensed as a private pilot. His goal is to get his commercial rating within two years and earn the bachelor's degree in aviation required of commercial airline pilots.

Both are honing their pilot skills through the aviation program at the Community College of Baltimore County, the largest pilot training program in Maryland and the surrounding four states.

Equipped with a flight simulator and with extensive connection to private flight schools that provide actual flying time, the program at CCBC's Catonsville campus offers the general public a way into the often close-knit aviation industry.

"Unless they know someone in [aviation], or unless they seek it out, most people don't know where to go for training," said Douglas A. Williams, aviation program coordinator and associate professor at CCBC.

The program has been there for 20 years, but until four years ago did not have a flight simulator, Williams said. The program relied on students to get their simulator time with private programs.

"It was kind of an oxymoron to have an aviation program without a flight simulator," he said.

Since purchasing the $25,000 simulator in 1998, the program has more than doubled enrollment to 160 students, up from 70.

At CCBC, students attend ground-school classes on campus and practice on the simulator to log a percentage of the necessary flying hours. The campus contracts with private flight schools in the area so students can get the required experience in the air.

Catonsville is an ideal location for a flight school, Williams said.

"We're in a terribly aviation-rich environment here," he said. The campus is an easy drive from a number of airports - Baltimore-Washington International, Dulles and Martin State - from which students can take off with their flight instructors.

"We have a lot more flight schools within a 50-mile radius than most colleges," Williams said.

Nationwide, flight schools came under scrutiny in the wake of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, after it was revealed that attackers received flight training in the United States. Williams said the FBI contacted his program to interview students with Arabic last names. Other than that, he said, the program has seen no impact, and interest among potential students has not wavered.

Some aspiring pilots come to CCBC with no experience. Others have flown with friends or relatives or have some formal instruction. Some are licensed as private pilots, but want to qualify for a commercial license so they can charge for their services, such as hauling cargo. A license to carry passengers for hire comes with yet more training, flying time and passage of exams.

The payoff can be significant. Airline pilots can earn up to $360,000 a year, although it takes years of much lower-paying work to get those choice jobs, Williams said.

Private flight schools also offer the graduates of the two-year program their best job prospect - as flight instructors - until they log more hours that qualify them to carry passengers.

The cost of the CCBC program is about $20,000 for two years. Students often pay with student loans or military benefits, Williams said. CCBC-Catonsville graduates can transfer to four-year universities to earn a bachelor's degree in aviation.

To make that transition even smoother, the CCBC program functions as a satellite for a four-year aviation bachelor's degree program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Student's credits at CCBC all transfer fully to the UMES program.

Until 1999, Yingling was working as a computer equipment trainer, and feeling less than satisfied with it.

"One day, my wife asked me, if I could do anything in the world, what would I be?" Yingling recalled. "I said, `I'd be an airline pilot.'"

But Yingling didn't have a clue where to start. He knew no one in the aviation business.

Under the Christmas tree that year, his wife presented him with a gift that would set him on a new path - an introductory course at a private pilot ground school near their home, through an adult continuing education program in Fairfax County.

He then enrolled in the CCBC program. As soon as he graduates, perhaps as early as this semester, he plans to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, on the grounds of Andrews Air Force Base near Washington.

"This is the best aviation program around here," he said of CCBC-Catonsville.

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