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More Than Sunny Skies and Open Air: The Skills You'll Learn In Flight School

CNCC’s David Boles is used to the sound of a roaring jet engine. His high-flying career in aviation has taken him around the world as a commercial airline pilot and flight instructor — but it was a very different kind of sound that brought this pilot back home to the United States.

“I’d been doing contract work in the Middle East for around 10 years when my wife became pregnant,” says Boles. “I came back from Saudi Arabia for the birth of my daughter and had all intentions of going back — but after I heard my daughter’s first cry, I decided that it was time for a change!”

Boles decided that he wanted to find a job where he could make a difference and raise his family a little closer to home.

“On my flight back to Saudi Arabia, I pulled out my computer and started looking for a job,” says Boles. “By the time I landed, I had an interview set up here at Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC). I took the job and have been here ever since.”

Pilot Training: From High School to Flight SchoolAVT Blog Image6

As the program director for the Aviation Technology Flight program at CNCC, Boles is still motivated by the sound of aircraft engines as he takes young aspiring flyers and molds them into professional pilots. He admits that this is usually quite a big transformation.

“When you look at a freshman class coming in, it's hard to imagine any of them flying for a major airline,” says Boles. “By the time they are done, you can point to a lot of them and say ‘Yeah, I can see them in a cockpit at United, British Airways, or Lufthansa.’ It's a big change in a short period of time for sure!”

According to Boles, CNCC’s Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Aviation Technology degree packs a lot of knowledge and practical training into the two-year program.

"During those two years, our students earn their degree and finish all their flight training —  including getting their private license, their instruments rating, their commercial license, and their flight instructor certificate," says Boles. “After those two years are done, we have an articulation agreement with Metropolitan State University (MSU) over in Denver, where they can enter the third year of a four-year Aviation and Aerospace Science Bachelor of Science Degree program  with a Professional Flight Officer concentration. By the end of those four years, many of them will have the 1,500 hours required for their Air Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate and be hired by a regional carrier.”

Boles highlights that it is not mandatory to transfer over to MSU after completing the A.A.S. program at CNCC.

“Airlines do hire people without four-year degrees," says Boles "So there is a percentage of students who just get the A.A.S. degree in aviation and are hired by an airline.”

Making Flight School More AffordableAVT Blog Image2

Learning how to fly a plane and become a commercial pilot is typically a very expensive endeavor. Therefore, reducing the cost of pilot training and creating opportunities for a more diverse group of aspiring pilots is a priority for the faculty in the aviation technology program at CNCC.

“The costs of most aviation school programs do not align with available financial aid,” says Boles, “so it really eliminates most middle and lower-income families from sending a child to an aviation program. That really hurts diversity and equality when most of the people you get in a program come from the same background.”

Boles believes that the high costs at many flight schools can be attributed to costly aircraft purchasing decisions.

“Most of the colleges out there have decided to go down the expensive route of buying brand new airplanes and brand new every-other-technology they can think of,” says Boles.

CNCC takes another route which allows them to offer the same high-quality pilot training — but on average, at 30% cheaper than other flight training schools.

“We don't buy the brand new aircraft at $500,000 apiece,” says Boles. “We'll buy a used aircraft and then we update it with current technology in avionics. A new Cessna 172 with glass cockpit technology would cost between $400,000 and $500,000. We could buy the same aircraft and technology on the used market for about $125,000. The learning experience is exactly the same and the safety aspect as far as the reliability of the aircraft is exactly the same because of the additional maintenance that’s done.”

Maintenance is another area where CNCC is able to save money by doing it in-house with their own experts. With a fleet of 14 aircraft, the savings are substantial.

“We have an Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) program here at the college which trains students to be aircraft mechanics,” says Boles. “We use the professional faculty of this program to help us maintain the aircraft. The overhaul of an engine in the open market would be somewhere between $35,000 and $45,000. We can use our highly-experienced faculty in-house and do it for about $3,000 — that's a huge saving.”

CNCC is able to leverage additional program savings by operating its flight school from a county-owned airport where the college provides airport management services in exchange for use of the facilities and utilities. The geographic location of the airport at Rangely also has cost-saving implications.

“There are no restrictions to airspace around here,” says Boles. “When you are flying out of a major city, there's a lot of wait time on the ground before you get clearance to take off and then you are going to have to fly a certain distance away from the city before you can do your maneuvers for that lesson. Here, we are the only ones operating out of the airport so there is no wait; we just fly a couple of miles away and start our maneuvers. The time spent in the airplane is a lot more efficient here."

The college also buys its gas by the truckload and fuels its own aircraft, cutting out third-party fuel suppliers’ overheads and profit margins.

“Add all of this together and you see huge savings that we pass onto our students,” says Boles. “So if a student does their first two years with us here in Rangely, their tuition is significantly less and their flight training is significantly less than anywhere else — without impacting the excellent quality of their training.”

New Flight School in DenverAVT Blog Image4

CNCC has recently expanded its flight program into Denver, where it has opened a satellite operation at the Colorado Air and Space Port. This expansion was initially designed to help students who didn’t finish all of their flight training in the first two years at Rangely, but still want to go to MSU directly after the CNCC program.

“We opened up a small satellite operation so that those students in Denver can continue the remainder of their flight training while they are continuing their education at MSU,” says Boles. “Having done that, we are finding that there's a huge number of MSU students who show an interest in doing their flying lessons with us at the satellite base in Denver — because we can hold onto those same economic advantages and pass the savings on to them.”

Another area of interest for students in Denver is the opportunity CNCC is able to offer them to acquire their Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license on the restricted path. 

“Because we are a college institution and we have applied to the federal government, we are able to provide a student with a restricted ATP path,” says Boles. “Normally, to get your ATP license you have to have 1,500 flight hours. If you go through an approved government school like CNCC, they will reduce that by 250 hours. That's another thing that the students in Denver are trying to tap into and it’s an area of great interest.”

Flying Lessons

According to Boles, CNCC flight training is tailored to each individual student’s needs.

“There are minimum flight hours for the various certificates and ratings, but every student is unique and will require differing levels of instruction and support across the various areas of flight training,” says Boles.

Students are required to earn 64 credit hours over the two years to achieve their A.A.S. degree and they fit their flying lessons in-between their college classes during the week and on weekends.

“Students typically do three flights a week,” says Boles. “A flight would consist of maybe an hour and a half with the instructor before the flight, an hour and a half of flying and maybe another hour after the flight. They are fairly busy during the week but they fit in those three flights however they can.”

Fortunately, the climate in Colorado ensures that students can maximize their time spent in the air throughout the year.

“Typically, we have really good flying weather here,” says Boles. “January and February are potentially hard times but most of the year is really good weather to fly.”

What Makes a Good Pilot?AVT Blog Image8

Boles highlights the role that technology has played in recent years in changing the perception about what makes a good pilot.

“The answer to that question would be different even five years ago than it is today,” says Boles. “In today’s world of technology, when you get to the level of an airline pilot, most of the flight is on autopilot. There is very little that is flown manually. These planes are designed to be easy to fly because safety needs to be the biggest factor.”

According to Boles, one of the most important factors when a pilot is hired is a proven ability to make good decisions.

“Pilots get paid the big salaries for what is called Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM),” says Boles. “The decisions that the Wright brothers had to make all those years ago are still decisions that you have to make in today's technology. There is no artificial intelligence to replace that. So the real skill that is needed up there is the ability to make good decisions in the air. Obviously, that takes a lot of experience and background to be able to make these good decisions and that's what flight training is all about. In the training, there's obviously a focus on eye-hand coordination. In flying an airplane, it’s necessary to go through that stage but after that, you're really being evaluated for the ability to make good decisions.”

Flight training at CNCC covers the foundational skills required for students to get the certificates required to be a professional pilot. These foundational skills include the study of navigation, weather, flight systems, aeronautical physiology, and the legal side of flight in the context of federal and national aviation regulations.

“When students get to MSU, there are additional courses that polish their knowledge in these areas beyond the minimum regulations and it's very valuable training, but all the core information is covered right here in the first two years in Rangely,” says Boles.

Is There a “Typical” Student in the Aviation Technology Program?

The majority of students in the Aviation Technology Flight program at CNCC come directly from high school. There are currently no prerequisites to enter the program, other than being a high school graduate and passing a comprehensive medical examination.

“Being a community college and servicing a rural area of America, we are committed to giving students chances,” says Boles. “The community college has a lot of ability to reinforce the skills that maybe weren't there at the high school level — like math and science. So we try to give every interested student an opportunity to succeed.”

Opportunities for Commercial and Airline PilotsAVT Blog Image9

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the aviation industry in the United States will create 7,000 new jobs for qualified commercial and airline pilots in the decade up to 2028.

Salaries are excellent with a commercial pilot earning a median annual wage of $82,240 and an airline pilot commanding upwards of $140,000 per year. These figures increase dramatically in states where there is a high demand for pilots. There are currently approximately 3,250 airline pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers employed in the state of Colorado, earning a median annual salary of $196,670.

Learn More

If you’re ready to let your career goals take flight and want to learn more about CNCC’s Associate of Applied Science in Aviation Technology degree or to speak with a member of our faculty about applying for flight school, please visit the program page on our website.

Published 11/18/2020

About CNCC

Colorado Northwestern is one college in two Colorado communities. Depending on what you want to study, CNCC has the perfect surroundings and facilities to meet your needs. Founded in 1962 as “Rangely College,” CNCC now serves nearly 1,800 students on two campuses, two service centers and online. Our two campuses are located in Craig and Rangely and are 90 miles apart in the mountains and canyons of Northwestern Colorado.

©2021 Colorado Northwestern Community College • 1-800-562-1105 • admissions@cncc.edu
500 Kennedy Drive • Rangely, CO 81648 / 2801 West 9th Street • Craig, CO 81625

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