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UND Boasts About offering "Crash Courses" for Pilots From the Middle-East: Is UND Training Current or Future Terrorists?

By Glenda Miskin; Edited by Vivian Nelson (ATP SMEL, CE500, Comm ASES, CFI, CFII, MEI, BGI); Vivian also is a system instructor on Corporate Jet Aircraft.

Saudi Arabia is an unstable country, apt to go in any direction politically. University of North Dakota Aerospace is providing a fast-track training program called Ab-Initio to Arabic student pilots for Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world

According to the British Jane's Information Group, UND has just purchased some expensive helicopters to help educate Arabian students ab-initio for the largest oil company in the world SAUDI ARAMCO. These are not your standard training helicopters for two reasons:

  1. Cost.

Equipment

Purchase Price

Operating Cost

MH-90 Enforcer US$2.6 million (1999) Operating cost US$368.85 (1999) per hour
MD 600N $1.2 million (1999) Operating cost US$230.83 per hour (1999)

Note: UND has solid ties to Saudi Aramco.  The company's past chairman was the well decorated UND alumnus Tom Barger, (UND class of 1931).

  1. According to Janes, the helicopters UND purchased can be configured for utility, medevac or combat missions; armament and mission equipment may include seven- or 19-tube 70 mm rocket pods, 0.50 caliber machine gun pods, chin-mounted FLIR night pilotage system and roof-mounted NightHawk surveillance and targeting systems.

In fact, on it's Web site the UND Aerospace Foundation boosts of doing business with the following clients: Saudi Aramco, Gulf Air, and Saudia. UND claims the purpose of the UND Aerospace Foundation is to act as a link between industry and the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. What kind of industry is UND Aerospace referring to?

UND promises Helicopter Training, Language Training, Technical Training and all this ab-initio.

What is Ab-Initio Training and What Does it Mean for Aspiring Airline Pilots?

Ab-initio means "to start from the beginning." Ab-initio training also means good news for those who want to be pilots, quickly. A person can essentially walk in, off the street, with no pilot training, to one of the facilities offering ab-initio training, and leave as soon as 14 months later, ready for the right seat at a regional airline.

UND Aerospace claims their program "Spectrum" is the top in Ab-Initio training. To date, UND has trained more than 500 pilots in its ab-initio programs-many of them from the middle-east. Other ab-initio programs in the States can be found at Embry-Riddle which has the CATER program and of course at the FlightSafety Academy at Vero Beach, Florida, which offers its own version of ab-initio training dubbed the "Career Pilot Program."' This program is designed to get "career minded individuals" in and out in a mere 30 weeks, and no prior flying experience is required.'" This is also the program that was accused of training two of the terrorists who flew the airplanes into the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2000. Informed sources believe giving this kind of training to persons from a politically unstable country is potentially dangerous.

"Spectrum was designed with Northwest Airlines for the purpose of meeting the demand for airline pilots during a shortage," explains Tom Kenville, UND Aerospace Director Of Sales And Marketing. "We were one of the first training facilities in North America to create an ab-initio program, which we started in 1988."

"Students at UND Aerospace have two choices for flight training: They can spend four years taking the traditional collegiate route, which costs approximately $41,000; or they can go through the ab-initio program, which takes anywhere from nine to 14 months, and costs from $58,000 to more than $100,000.

The length of study time varies according to the student's previous pilot experience, and the cost varies according to the type of modules, aircraft, and equipment the student needs for their individual program."

Easing The Pilot Shortage

"'Ab-initio programs are catching on in North America," says Kenville. "It's a matter of supply and demand, and there's definitely been a hiring craze. This has turned out to be a profitable business. Our entire flight program is a $25-million-dollar business."

UND Aerospace has trained pilots for Gulf Air, Saudia, China Airlines, Eva Airlines, Zinhau Airlines, and the Saudi Aramco Oil Company.

Besides UND's program in Grand Forks, UND is offering training in Honolulu, Hawaii, Phoenix, Arizona, Spokane, Washington and Crop Duster training in Crookston, Minnesota,

"'The Center for Aviation Training at Embry-Riddle (CATER) is also working with the airline industry to "ease the pilot shortage" by offering a new customized ab-initio program called 'Future Track.'" The price tag on this is $81,000 from start to finish. More information is available at http://www.embryriddle.edu/cater.

The FlightSafety Academy at Vero Beach, Florida, offers its own version of ab-initio training named the "Career Pilot Program." Their Web Site says this program is designed to get "career minded individuals" in and out in a mere 30 weeks, and no prior flying experience is required. Their online site boasts a map with 32 places in the United States where one can get ab-initio training.

"FlightSafety's philosophy: To produce a competent, safety-conscience pilot from zero time all the way through to a position in commercial aviation. The cost, including FAA certification costs and supplies: $41,762." This is about a half of what UND or Embry Riddle charges, so the terrorists probably shopped around. FlightSafety claims to train more than 80,000 pilots and technicians each year.

For more information on FlightSafety's programs, go to www.flightsafety.com.

"'It takes a dedicated individual to complete an ab-initio program, it's intense and it's expensive,'" says Kenville. How expensive, we wonder? At what cost is UND offering "crash courses" to high paying foreign students? Time will surely tell...

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