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Aviation classes in Jamestown: Education and airport officials optimistic that classes will start next summer

Local education officials are optimistic that aviation classes will be set to take off next summer after a meeting with members of the Jamestown Regional Airport Authority last week.

“It looks like a very positive climate for trying to test some aviation classes a year from this summer,” said Bob Badal, president of the University of Jamestown. “It really sounds like there’s an interest among students in beginning some studies in aviation, and we’re certainly open to playing a role working with the school district and with our own students and others who want to pursue that goal.”

Badal, who met with Airport Authority Chairman Jim Boyd, JRA manager Matt Leitner, Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Rob Lech, James Valley Career and Technology Center Director John Lynch and Shawn Davis of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, said that group is looking into grant funding or other ways to subsidize the cost of the classes, which are tentatively titled “Aviation I” and “Aviation II.” The college-level courses would be available to high school and college students as well as members of the community.

“I think if someone in the community is thinking about becoming a pilot this may or may not be the best way to do it because the end product is not necessarily going to be a pilot’s license,” Badal said. “But I do think if somebody is interested in aviation, just as our students would be able to enroll, there certainly is no reason why someone in the community could (not) enroll if they wanted to do some coursework in this area and get an introduction to the field.”

Boyd has a 10th-grade grandson who is taking similar courses in Bismarck and said they were a good springboard toward becoming a pilot. Boyd said there was initial talk of offering the courses this summer, but it would be a struggle to get grant funding from the NDAC before the application window closes in early May.

“We’re still trying to get a handle on all the costs, and we’ve got a good start on that but we need to find out just exactly how much we’re going to have and what the interest from the students are as to how many to plan for,” Boyd said. “We’re looking at various options and it was a really good start; everybody is saying, ‘yes, we can do this.’ So we’ll keep pressing on.”

Lech said the courses sounded like a “pretty intriguing option for our kids,” and he, Boyd and Badal all said the summer academy model that has been proposed would be ideal for courses such as these.

“It (summer academy) fits better from a school district standpoint that we’re not taking away elective opportunities from the kids,” Lech said. “In the summer there’s a lot more flexibility for a lot of kids and then it would also allow us to partner with the University of Jamestown and the Airport Authority in offering that out from a dual credit standpoint so kids can get high school and college credit at the same time.”

Lech said there are similar courses in Bismarck and Grand Forks that the group is looking at modeling Jamestown courses after, but he said what works for those cities may not work in Jamestown, especially with the district facing an estimated $800,000 budget deficit at the end of the district’s fiscal year on June 30, and a possible $1.8 million deficit next summer.

“We don’t have the student base that Bismarck does; we don’t have the student base that Grand Forks does,” Lech said. “We have to do things a little bit differently to maximize what we do have.

“The biggest thing that we’ve talked about from the school district’s standpoint is we’re financially at the place where we as a school district have to look at other ways to fund it. We can’t just absorb it as a school district so we have to be creative in how we can provide the opportunity for kids, but not provide district dollars.”

Sun reporter David Luessen can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at