International pilot trainees soar through UND program

North Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1993  | October 1993 issue

The University of North Dakota's (UND) Center for Aerospace Sciences in Grand Forks has become a veritable aeronautical United Nations.

It began in 1991 in Grand Forks with the first group of Taiwanese pilot trainees. Since then, 91 Taiwanese pilots have graduated, 81 students are currently enrolled and 72 others are scheduled to attend classes over the next two years. China Airlines, the pilots' sponsor, has even invested in a Grand Forks apartment building to house its student pilots.

As a bonus for North Dakota, China Airlines' trainees serve as co- pilots for the state's intra-state air service. This joint venture with China Airlines has been so successful, says Tim Burke, the center's communications director, that the regional airline, Great Lakes, has expanded its routes in North Dakota and is looking at adding flights from Grand Forks to Bemidji, Minn., and Minneapolis.

Recently a group of Russian air traffic controllers graduated from the center after studying English and using the language while performing simulated air traffic control exercises. The language training and simulator exercises upgrade the skills of current air traffic controllers that will enable Russia to open new air routes across the country.

A group of mainland Chinese air traffic controllers completed a similar program for much the same purpose: to create more economical flight paths. There's also a tremendous need for trained pilots in China as a result of increased trade, Burke says, adding that the center may soon be training mainland Chinese pilots.

Discussion is also under way regarding a training program for Indonesian pilots, and center representatives expect to announce a pilot training agreement with a Middle Eastern airline by the end of the year.

Currently, about 8 percent of the center's 1,500 students come from other countries. Burke says these international visitors add a new dimension to life in Grand Forks. "The programs also bring the university additional revenue, and the equipment available to domestic students might not be available without the contract work," Burke says. He also guesses that about 35 to 40 center employees have jobs because of foreign contract work.

But then you have situations you can't control, Burke says. The center lost a contract for a class with Gulf Air in the Middle East because the currency exchange rate was more favorable for the class to be held in England.

Kathy Cobb