Commuter air service returning to North Dakota

North Dakota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1991  | April 1991 issue

The University of North Dakota's Aerospace Foundation and China Airlines will join forces to restore intrastate air travel in North Dakota.

Scheduled to take off in June, the new air service will benefit both the state of North Dakota and China Airlines. The state will regain commuter air service between its larger cities and China Airlines will get trained pilots.

Since the last regional carrier discontinued service in the state several years ago, it has been nearly impossible to fly from one North Dakota city to another without first flying to Minneapolis. The lack of air service has hampered economic development, officials say, making it difficult to attract new business to the state.

Because China Airlines' growth has outpaced the number of pilots available from retiring members of the Republic of China Air Force, the airline has turned to the University of North Dakota to train civilian pilots. "They send us people who walk, we send them people who fly," says Tim Burke, communications director for the university's Center for Aerospace Sciences.

The center will operate the pilot training program, Advanced Spectrum, funded by China Airlines, which has invested several million dollars in the purchase of aircraft alone.

Advanced Spectrum is a 12-month airline experience program for FAA- certified pilots who have graduated from the university's Spectrum pilot training program. For the first four months, the pilots will be in a transition program where they will fly aircraft purchased by China Airlines. Upon completion of the transition training, the pilots will be captain-qualified and will go on to serve for eight months as co-pilots for the intrastate airline. China Airlines expects to have more than 180 of its pilots go through the Advanced Spectrum program in the next five years.

The Aerospace Foundation is expected to name the airline that will provide the air service shortly. With headquarters likely in Bismarck, the air service will connect with a number of other cities throughout the state. The airline will be operated for profit, independent of the foundation and without state funding. The foundation will pay the airline a fee for each hour an Advanced Spectrum pilot flies as a first officer for the airline. In addition, China Airlines is willing to purchase additional aircraft which the airline could lease at reduced rates. "This should take some of the economic pressure off the airline," Burke says.

Patti Lorenzen