The school is working to address the issue of affordability of studying aviation.

Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus is training the next generation of airline pilots, and the way they do it, pilots don't even have to leave the ground. COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE - A student in PCC's aviation program tests out one of the program's new flight simulators.

The campus, 17705 N.W. Springville Road, north of Hillsboro, is now home to six new flight simulators, something administrators say could help with addressing the current demand for pilots around the globe.

PCC has offered a two-year aviation program at the Rock Creek campus since 1999, but learning to fly is getting more and more expensive, according to Larry Altree, chairman of PCC's Aviation Science department.

"Using these simulators brings the number of actual aircraft time down for each student, while increasing what they are learning and actually increasing the safety of both the students while they are in the program and making them safer pilots afterwards when they graduate."

Students in the PCC program typically rent aircraft by the hour for practice, primarily at the Hillsboro and Troutdale airports, which isn't affordable for many students, Altree said.

"There is a tendency for beginning pilots to go out and spend a lot of time just figuring out what the different controls do," Altree said. "Those wasted minutes can really hurt the student financially."

A new generation of airline pilots and technicians is badly needed. More than 637,000 new airline pilots and more than 839,000 new cabin crew will be needed globally over the next 20 years, according to a report released by aircraft manufacturer Boeing last year.

That need is compounded by a planned exit of thousands of pilots over the next few years. By 2020, nearly one-third of Delta Air Lines' workforce will be eligible for retirement.

The six new simulators mimic Cessna and Piper airplanes as well as Robinson R-22 and R-44 helicopters — the same aircraft used at the Hillsboro and Troutdale airports for training, Chester said.

"We can simulate all sorts of situations and bad weather that we would never be able to simulate in an actual aircraft," Altree said. "So we are anticipating that each student that comes through our program will save something on the order of $3,000 to $5,000 each as they go through our program just because they won't have to rent aircraft for as many hours."

Oregon's notoriously wet weather means many aspiring pilots can't fly for several weeks or months at a time. Pilots-in-training must master visual flight rules, or VFR, a set of regulations pilots use while flying in clear skies.

"When bad weather arrives, they can't fly VFR," said Kenneth Kleinfelter, an Aviation Science support technician. "But they can come in here and fly visually, and hopefully maintain some of that proficiency over the winter when skills like these can get stale."

Altree said this isn't the only thing the school is doing to address the shortage of pilots and mechanics needed in the airline industry.

"There is an enormous demand for pilots right now, but what's keeping that demand from being fulfilled is the affordability of learning how to fly," he said.

In April, the campus struck a deal with Delta Air Lines, to help teach the airline's aviation maintenance technology program to aspiring mechanics.

Altree said the PCC aviation program has helped launch the careers of pilots all over the country.

"At this point, we've got graduates out there flying in most of the airlines in the United States," he said. "… I think now is a good time for people to look into being a pilot. It's just a historically awesome opportunity."

Beaverton resident Chris Morningstar, 26, joined the program last year and wants to use his aviation training to transfer into the Air Force. He is a regular in the simulation room and said the simulators have helped him become a better pilot.

 "It's been great to have these simulators," he said. "They develop your multitasking skills, and you learn to handle situations that can arise in the cockpit. So when you do go out and fly, all of those situations are easier to handle."

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
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