Parkland College trustees unanimously approved a three-year agreement with the University of Illinois that outlines steps for the community college to assume academic and oversight responsibilities of the UI's Institute of Aviation.
CHAMPAIGN — Parkland College trustees on Wednesday approved moving ahead with a plan to offer pilot training at Willard Airport beginning in fall 2014.
The board unanimously gave its OK to a three-year agreement with the University of Illinois that outlines steps for the community college to assume academic and oversight responsibilities of the UI's Institute of Aviation.
Parkland officials now will draw up an agreement with Riverside Research, the Champaign company with whom it plans to contract some of the operational activities.
"It's been a long time coming," said Parkland College President Tom Ramage.
In recent years officials have been investigating the possibility of taking on aviation programs ever since the UI indicated it would close the institute in August 2014.
"We've been trying to understand the issues and how to minimize the risk," said board Chair Tom Bennett, who called the agreement a "win-win-win" for the UI, Parkland and Riverside Research.
According to the agreement, Parkland will lease the institute's facilities, which include classrooms and offices, at Willard Airport in Savoy for $1 a year for three years. The college also will have use of the institute's aircraft, possibly taking over ownership of the fleet in the future.
In addition, the agreement calls for the UI and Parkland to develop a "pathway" program for students interested in transferring to the university to obtain aviation-related, four-year degrees. Parkland also plans to offer private and commercial pilot certificates.
"We may be touching the tip of the iceberg," said Bennett about the potential for developing aviation-related programs beyond pilot certificates. One example, Ramage said, is the airframe and power certificate.
As a farmer, Parkland board member Lin Warfel said he supports the transition.
"There's a lot of potential," he said. "We're right on the leading edge of getting unmanned aerial vehicles for crop monitoring and these vehicles, which are model airplane-sized, are programed with GPS and cameras and can fly over fields taking pictures of ... problem areas. They can get specifics on damage faster than I can walk through a field," he said, adding that if these drones are flown above a certain height, operators will need a license.
The UI-Parkland agreement also calls for the university to transfer $250,000 to the college which will use the money to start marketing the program to potential students. Ramage said he anticipates the first class in fall 2014 to be around 90 students, but he would like to see that number grow.
The initial $250,000 will come from a pot of about $3 million the UI has for the institute. Over the next year the university also agrees to upgrade the aircraft fleet — there are 30 airplanes now — and after that occurs, half of the remaining funds will be transferred to Parkland by about next August.
By August 2015, any remaining amount will be transferred to Parkland, according to the agreement.
The document now goes to the UI for signatures from campus officials.