When aviation instructors at a local college were faced with losing their jobs after their program was cut, they decided to doff their black robes and mortarboards and instead don new outfits — the business suits of entrepreneurs.
In 2011, Bob Jones University announced that the aviation program was among several that would be phased out over the next few years as students currently enrolled in the programs graduated.
“We had something of great value and didn’t want to see it just cease,” said Brett Zukowski, one of the three former faculty members who started USAeroGroup to take over the college’s aircraft maintenance and aviation training programs as an independent business.
The maintenance segment of the business, USAeroTech Institute, started operating about two years ago. The aviation wing, USAeroFlight, took over for Bob Jones this summer. The company is assuming the school’s longstanding Federal Aviation Administration flight school certificate and curriculum.
“We love people. We love to teach. And we love aviation,” said co-owner Mark Spang.
But it was more than just love that brought the men together in business. It was also a savvy look at their industry.
Bob Jones decided to cut the program after looking at it from an academic, enrollment-based perspective, Spang said. “They didn’t look at it from the aviation world we did.”
What the men saw was information like the Boeing Current Market Outlook. Published in 2012, the report predicted the aviation industry would need 460,000 new commercial pilots and 601,000 maintenance technicians over the next 20 years.
“There is tremendous demand,” Zukowski said. “The industry needs folks.”
Thanks to partnerships with both Bob Jones and North Greenville University, students will be able to receive college credit for their studies at USAeroFlight. Bob Jones has also recently introduced a minor in aviation.
USAeroGroup’s owners said they are leasing the Downtown Greenville Airport space previously used by Bob Jones University for the aviation program. A jet donated in 2012 by FedEx allows USAeroTech students to get more hands-on experience with large aircraft, and tools donated by Lockheed Martin ensures they’re working with the right equipment.
A recent partnership with Stratos Aviation, a local flight school that caters primarily to business executives, allows the two companies to increase their resources and reach.
Zukowski said it was a well kept secret that the aviation program at Bob Jones University was opened to the public several years ago. He and his business partners are growing those early building blocks to develop their flight school.
He and Spang said Bob Jones received their proposal to take over the aviation school with enthusiasm and has been a willing partner in getting the business going.
“Bob Jones University students will benefit greatly from our relationship with USAeroTech,” said Randy Page, public relations director for the school.