KALAELOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii is grounding the state's only college-based commercial aviation program next year. Student pilots are upset about losing valuable time in the classroom and cockpit through training offered at Kalaeloa by Honolulu Community College. The school is ending its Commercial Aviation Program in the spring semester of 2016.
"I wasn't happy. I've invested a lot of money, of my own personal time, of my own personal money in the program and so I'm a little nervous about that because I'm so close to being done. What does that mean for me?" said student Kawekiu Kawainui.
The college created the program in 1998, in the hopes of attracting foreign students who would learn how to fly and pay their own way. But that plan never got off the ground, especially with new restrictions after the 9/11 attack. Since the program began 16 years ago, only 19 people have earned an Associate of Science degree, according to the school. HCC officials said the school spends roughly $400,000 annually on commercial aviation training. The funds pay for faculty, a contracted flight provider, and subsidized flight time for students. The total cost to each student for flight fees and tuition can easily reach $60,000.
"You pay a little and then you go do your flying and you wait until you can get some more money. You pay some more, you do some flying. We find that it's just this circle where they're never able to finish their hours," explained Erika Larco, HCC's chancellor.
"It is really doing well on graduation rates lately. Also at the same time, I was able to get about 104 pilot certificates during the last four years of people to get various FAA ratings," said Rob Moore of Galvin Flight Services Hawaii which has provided the school's flight instruction for the last four years.
But HCC does not recognize the FAA certificates.
"We're going to hit a point in time where most jobs with livable wages are going to require some type of degree or certificate from an accredited institution," said Larco.
The school said aspiring pilots can still turn to other local flight providers. Some students, however, point out that they'll lose scholarships as well as VA funding for veterans at the only college-based flight school in Hawaii.
"I don't want to leave cause my family is here and looking right now I can only finish instrument rating if they close the program," said Allan Gascon, a Navy veteran.
"I'm in the middle of my commercial license and the VA has given me over $52,000 to pursue this passion," said Navy veteran Darek Laviolette.
"We're really working to steward our resources appropriately, and when we don't see a program performing in the way that it should in the way that we measure success then we should take action," said Larco.