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Aeronautics program plans expansion

December 17, 2010  |  Liberty University News Service

The site of the proposed facility is just right of Falwell Aviation Jet Center, where a mound of dirt now sits. Lynchburg Regional Airport's main terminal can be seen in the distance at the right.

Liberty University School of Aeronautics recently announced plans to construct a new facility at Lynchburg Regional Airport, beside Falwell Aviation Jet Center, which was purchased by the university in February 2010 and now houses the flight school.

The new space will make it possible for Liberty’s entire aeronautics program to be in one location, including its new aircraft mechanic training program, which has been operating in the old Rose’s building at The Plaza shopping center in mid-town Lynchburg.

“Our existing facilities are fully utilized right now; we don’t have any spare space,” said Dave Young, dean of the School of Aeronautics and president of Falwell Aviation. “This is all being done to enhance our program to better serve our students.”

He said an additional two-story building, proposed at 40,000 to 50,000 square feet, would house a new hangar and the flight school, doubling the space of Liberty’s presence at the airport. The flight school is currently located on the second floor in the 55,000-square-foot Falwell Aviation complex, which includes three aircraft maintenance and storage hangars, maintenance workspace, flight operations, simulator training, classrooms, aircraft dispatch, student study areas and customer service facilities for charter passengers and transient aircraft.

"The Liberty University aviation program remains a vital and growing asset here at Lynchburg Regional Airport," said airport director Mark Courtney. "Without a doubt, Liberty's latest plans to expand its facilities in order to enhance its capabilities to serve both students and the flying public represent an exciting new addition to the airport. I look forward to working with school officials to make this expansion a reality."

The sale by Liberty of the old Rose’s department store building to Centra Health earlier this week facilitates the expansion of two schools — Centra’s School of Nursing at the Plaza and Liberty’s School of Aeronautics at the airport, according to Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr.

“This is a win for Centra, a win for Liberty and a big win for the economy of the Lynchburg region,” Falwell said.

Continued, rapid growth of Liberty’s School of Aeronautics necessitates a new facility at the airport, Young said. The school, offering specializations in commercial/corporate aviation, military, missions and helicopter aviation, as well as aircraft mechanic, has grown from four students in 2002 to more than 300 enrolled in aviation courses for the Spring 2011 semester.

Young said the market demand for new pilots and the versatility of the program is attracting new students. The recent addition of new programs, including helicopter training, a flight attendant training program, unmanned aerial systems and an online degree completion program, make Liberty’s aviation program one of the most unique in the country.

“I’m not aware of any university in the country that has all that we have in this program — and I know there is no other faith-based university that has what we have,” Young said.

Liberty’s School of Aeronautics is the largest flight school in Virginia and one of only four universities in the U.S. to offer both airplane and helicopter training. It is the only faith-based aviation school to offer helicopter training.

School of Aeronautics staff anticipated the growth, as initial plans called for a new 88,000-square-foot facility at a separate site at the airport. A dedication/prayer ceremony was held there in 2007 and the school kicked off a $10 million fundraising drive in April 2008 to finance a building, airplanes and support facilities, but when the opportunity arose to purchase the aviation business in late 2009, plans changed.

“We put it on hold because we bought the aviation company. It changed everything,” Young said. (Money that was raised, over $200,000, was used to buy training equipment and convert part of the building into a flight school).

Even though Young knew the aviation company’s facility would not meet all the school’s needs, the purchase still propelled the program further in a much shorter time period, he said.

“We were praying for a ham sandwich and God gave us a whole banquet, because He opened doors we hadn’t previously considered walking through.”

Having a fully functioning aviation company at the flight school is an added benefit to students, he said. The company offers a chartered jet service, a full maintenance repair station, and fuel sales and aircraft rental.

“It expanded the scope of our operation beyond just being a flight school,” Young said. “To actually have a full FAA-certified maintenance repair station here is a tremendous opportunity for our aircraft mechanic students to learn in a real environment.”

Young hopes the new facility can be completed in 12 months.

“Our goal is to eventually have the whole school out here. I would love to see this be the ‘Liberty University airport campus,’ ” he said.
 

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