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University helping China develop general aviation industry

Training emergency response pilots

Minnesota State Mankato: Helping China develop general aviation.

By Tanner Kent, Free Press Staff Writer [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 7/26/2011]

Minnesota State Mankato and North Star Aviation announced plans Monday to ink a formal contract with Chinese officials on a program to train pilots in Mankato.

During a news conference with a large delegation of Chinese government and aviation officials, all parties agreed to begin formalizing an agreement that would allow Chinese students to obtain pilot licensure through Minnesota State Mankato's aviation program. That program contracts with North Star Aviation for flight time and instruction.

The parties involved agreed on a timeline of 90 days to conclude the agreement; after an agreement is reached, a work group will iron out logistical issues.

Minnesota State Mankato President Richard Davenport said the news conference followed a series of meetings during the past few days. The meetings, he said, represent the next step in a process that began more than a year ago and could become Minnesota State Mankato's, and Mankato’s, signature international partnership.

The idea began when a series of earthquakes struck rural China, prompting government officials to declare a need for state-run emergency centers throughout the country. Each center would include about 20 helicopters with about two or three pilots per helicopter. China estimates it will need 12,000 pilots for the program.

Yet, China’s aviation infrastructure and work force are not equipped for the task.

Changdong Xu — a Chinese businessman who serves as chairman of the Western Returned Scholars Association Entrepreneur Alliance and advises the Chinese government on collaborations with the United States — said there are fewer than 1,000 private aircraft in China and only a few hundred private airports.

He said the partnership with Minnesota State Mankato and North Star will be “an example for the future” of China’s aviation industry, and spoke in inspired terms about the importance of its success.

“We need a lot of pilots,” said Xu (pronounced “Shoo”). “We’re helping to write the history of aviation in China.”

The broad outline of the deal is for the university to be paid a lump sum per trained pilot while providing food, transportation and other costs for the students in the training program.

The negotiations are being led by Colorado-based CAIDA Inc., a consultancy firm led by Richard Lehmann. Costs for the consulting are being split between the city of Mankato, Minnesota State Mankato and North Star.

Originally, the program focused on Chinese students who would need only 12 months pilot training. But during the recent series of meetings, Chinese officials said they were interested in a program that would cater to a “broader audience,” particularly high school students and two-year college students who could earn a four-year degree from Minnesota State Mankato before earning their pilot license.

Xu said he hopes to have the system established within “two to three years” and urged those in attendance to be patient.

“We’re starting from scratch in this industry,” he said. “Everybody here are the pioneers.”

North Star Aviation President Mark Smith said he’s earned the certification required to train international students and is ready to begin the program whenever a deal is reached.

“We stand ready at any moment to start the training,” he said.

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