College of Aeronautics takes over, downsizes FIT Aviation

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Photo by Rebekah Duntz

After allegedly suffering a nearly $2 million profit loss last year, the College of Aeronautics has taken over FIT Aviation.

In late February, seven middle-management positions were cut, and a no-fly weekend was declared for the weekend of Feb. 28 where planes were not authorized to fly so that FIT Aviation employees could adjust, according to an email sent out to its employees.

Victoria Dunbar, the division director for College of Aeronautics and deputy executive director at the flightline, confirmed that FIT Aviation suffered a substantial loss last year, close to $2 million, and the college is working on implementing strategies to help the business stay afloat.

FIT Aviation remains a for-profit, limited liability company.

“The main ways that we’re cutting costs is on salaries, selling fuel for less, and promoting outside maintenance,” Dunbar said.

FIT Aviation flight instructors were given a choice: to stay and be demoted to hourly pay, taking a pay cut, or to quit their jobs.. Three of the seven affected employees chose to quit.

“I think it was a necessary evil,” Shannon Ferry, the chief instructor at FIT Aviation, said of the layoffs. “Especially when you don’t have the customer base.”

FIT Aviation also sells fuel for profit and has reduced its price this year, hoping to draw in more customers. FIT Aviation also performs routine maintenance to anyone that needs it done, like oil changes and plane checks.

Flight students have noticed a shift this semester, and many also expressed irritation on Yik Yak in March during the no-fly weekend.

“Flight training has been the same, besides a few of the costs have gone down,” said student pilot Gabriel Hall.  “And I’ve seen some people get the option to either stay or leave.”

Hall said he hasn’t seen any changes that have affected his coursework.

The university made these changes in order to remain compliant with Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation requirements, as well as the severe profit loss last year.

Ferry said SACS requires that the dean of College of Aeronautics must oversee FIT Aviation practices to ensure the students receive quality education and training.

In the past, the college’s deans have overseen FIT Aviation. But last year, Korhan Oyman, the dean of College of Aeronautics, was not in charge of FIT Aviation oversight.

The College of Aeronautics took over daily flight operations at FIT Aviation on Oct. 1, and then European Agency Safety Agency and Airline training shortly after, while also making changes to the curriculum.

According to the email sent out to FIT Aviation employees, the college “quickly made some changes to increase safety and oversight.”

“It’s supposed to be seamless,” said Dunbar, describing the merger. “We’re kind of streamlining it.”

According to Dunbar, the college also wanted more control over training aspects of the program, mainly to get the course education and flight training more in line with each other.

“We’ve talked about really trying to get the classes that are taught on campus in line with what we’re teaching at Flightline,” Ferry said. “There’s a little bit of some gaps there.”

The number of students pursuing flight has decreased, giving more reason for layoffs and pay cuts.

“Right now we have less than 200 students, where we used to have about 500 students,” Dunbar said of recent years.

The College of Aeronautics holds the smallest campus enrollment at 8.42 percent, according to the university’s website.

“Definitely, morale needs a boost,” Ferry said. “So we are trying different things, like a barbecue next week as a department thing, to try to help and have fun. To say hey, we appreciate you.”

Ferry said she feels like the move was a good idea and that the change has mainly improved communication among students, faculty and flight instructors, pointing out that there were too many middlemen before.

“We’re working on morale,” said Ferry. “It’s so important to come together and remember that we’re a unity and we are one.”

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