Students prepare to fly at the Ohio University Airport
Photo courtesy of: Russ College of Engineering and Technology
Jan 25, 2013
By Adrienne Cornwall
Ohio University faculty, staff and official visitors can now fly regional with a new alternative for short-haul air travel – the Russ College Air Transport Service.
Part of the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology, the Department of Aviation has been flying Russ College faculty and staff from the Albany airport since late last year and recently began service for other Ohio University officials in late spring.
"Our goal is to emulate a corporate aircraft operation using the equipment we already have at our disposal," said Bryan Branham, department chair.
He recently re-launched the service, which had been operating about a decade ago, for official University business travel occurring outside the schedules of major airlines to offer on-demand, personalized trip planning without the 75-mile drive to Port Columbus International Airport.
Flights are staffed by the department's certified pilots – many of whom are students eager for additional flight experience – and department faculty serving as captains and co-pilots.
Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin said students are a key beneficiary.
"The program meets the needs of two constituencies: faculty and staff looking for a more efficient way to travel, but more importantly, our student aviators who want a competitive edge with employers," Irwin said.
The service capitalizes on the department's pre-existing assets: the cadre of licensed pilots and a Beechcraft Baron 55 airplane, which can carry one to three passengers to destinations such as Washington, D.C., and Atlanta without refueling.
According to Branham, the Baron 55 gives students a high-performance multi-engine aircraft experience that many other collegiate aviation programs don't.
"Most programs use much slower aircraft," he said. "This offers flight students participating in the program greater experience in a plane they’d be flying once employed, as well as how to work within the system of Air Traffic Control and commercial aviation."
In addition, students are able to meet flight-hours requirements sooner and graduate on time: The FAA recently announced a proposal requiring airlines to increases minimum flight hour requirements for pilots to 1,500 hours, and the service provides students the opportunity to get that experience.
Although a student might be in the cockpit, Branham assures that no flight training occurs while passengers are on board.
"The pilot may be called a student because he or she is enrolled in the University, but these are certified pilots looking for a competitive edge, and the competition is for flight hours," Branham said. "If I have a student who wants exposure to a different aircraft, he or she can assist in-flight with duties in accordance with their certification, such as instrument ratings, while the captain does the flying."
Costs vary according to destination, fuel costs and other variables, but the range is generally around $600 per hour. When accounting for ground transportation, travel time and hotel expenses that can be saved, Branham said the cost differential is pretty narrow.
"And, we don’t lose your bags," he added.
Thanks to the landmark $124 million estate gift to the college in 2008 from 1942 electrical engineering alumnus Fritz Russ and his wife, Dolores, a Baron 58 will soon join the fleet to offer room for more passengers and additional training opportunities for students.