ROCHESTER, Minn. - The pandemic has grounded many planes across the country and left thousands of pilots furloughed, but it's the opposite at Rochester Community and Technical College.
The Aviation Program at RCTC has only been around for two years and one year of that has been during a pandemic. Students and instructors had to shift to all online classes and the planes were grounded for 8 weeks. They've since been able to get back to it and now they're all caught up again. "We got back up and flying fairly quickly and were able to keep our students moving and safe," said Matt Bissonette, the Dean of Career and Technical Education. "We're moving forward now and we've had no issues, so it's been great to partner with them."
RCTC has a partnership with Great Planes Aviation to make this program possible. The president, Nick Fancher, said it's been great to see the students grow over the past couple years. "The students have done a great job at staying focused on doing their flying and continuing to progress and knowing that the opportunity is going to be there for them when they get done."
There are 21 students currently in the program. Two of them, Andrew Hegland and Kess Klouser, are part of the first graduating class. They explain while trying to navigate through the pandemic has been challenging, the instructors are making the process of learning to fly a breeze. "When we got the go ahead, we just made sure that we were careful with all of the mandates that were required of us, so we could keep going," said Hegland. "Cleaning the inside and outside of the planes, wearing the masks inside the planes as well and things like that." Klouser said, "we've been able to get like a lot more one on one time with the instructors. That's something that I know a lot of larger schools don't have," she explained. "But it's really helpful when we're trying to learn stuff. You know, when we have a question we can just go talk to them about it."
You don't need to have previous flight experience to enroll in the program at RCTC. They are currently working on the schedule for fall semester.