GLENVILLE — A new Schenectady County Airport hangar will expand the options for aviation students, and also the SUNY Schenectady program they are enrolled in.
Students, school administrators and others joined together for a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday for the new Flex Pod Hangar, which is being built by the county with a state grant.
The hangar will be divided into four pods, two of them occupied by the college’s Aviation Science program, one for classroom space and one for aircraft storage. Completion is targeted for late October 2022.
“This hangar will really give us an opportunity to expand the program,” said SUNY Schenectady President Steady Moono. “This program is one of the fastest-growing programs in the college.”
There are currently two aviation tracks at the college, pilot and non-pilot, both leading to associate of science degrees and both set up for transition to bachelor’s degree tracks at other colleges. There is also an air traffic control degree program.
With the additional space, Moono said, SUNY Schenectady can look at adding training programs in mechanical and avionics repairs and maintenance.
All of those fields, he said, are short of qualified people to fill jobs.
“There is a national shortage of pilots, a shortage of air traffic controllers, avionics,” he said. “The pandemic has not helped, it has just accelerated the crisis.
“We are also looking into other newer technologies in aviation, like unmanned aircraft, that we can expand into.”
Pilot training is one of the most selective curriculums at the school, as students must pass an FAA physical and be U.S. citizens or pass a background check.
It’s also one of the most expensive, with nearly $30,000 in lab fees. Two private-sector partners, Richmor Aviation and Westfield Flight Academy, own the planes and provide the flight instructors
“It is indeed an expensive program,” Moono said, but added that most students receive financial assistance from the federal government and the SUNY Schenectady Foundation. Additional aid is available for veterans.
Pilots-in-training Marisa Dreibelbis and Tuveena Sharma were on hand for the ceremony Wednesday.
Both students are enthused about the new classroom/hangar, though Dreibelbis is scheduled to graduate before she gets much chance to use it.
“I’m on track to getting my private [pilot certificate] this summer,” the 20-year-old Latham resident said. She’s already soloed to Utica and back, and plans to earn a bachelor’s degree and commercial pilot’s license before ultimately working for a commercial airline.
“I want to go international,” she said.
Sharma, a second-year student, envisions a similar career path: Four-year degree and airliner cockpit.
“My goal is to graduate and hopefully transfer to a school with a degree in aviation science,” the 19-year-old Schenectady resident said.
“I was always interested in flying. In high school I was in the Air Force ROTC.”
Sharma said the flight instruction has shown her she made the right choice — something clicked inside her when she executed a good landing.
For Dreibelbis, the moment came at the age of 14, at a summer camp at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum that she had protested mightily against attending. Flying time was one of the activities, and she got to take the wheel.
“When they handed you the controls it was like something totally different, I loved it,” Dreibelbis said.
There have been some exciting moments for the two student pilots, though nothing scary yet. The airport’s Runway 22 has a bit of a hill at one end, and the contour of the terrain can funnel the breeze in a certain way, Dreibelbis said.
“Especially when it’s windy it can be kind of iffy on the landings because it hits you from the side,” she explained.
Also, that solo flight to Utica was supposed to be a flight to Hamilton, but as she approached she saw Hamilton had cloud cover, which she’s not rated for.
“I was a little spooked for a second,” Dreibelbis said.
So she radioed the tower in Syracuse and got clearance to divert to Utica.
Neither student said they’re worried about making their way in a male-dominated profession.
“When I came to class the first day I was the only girl there,” Sharma said, adding that it felt a little odd. She also noted every gender reference was to men.
It wasn’t until the meteorology class that she met up with Dreibelbis.
“I think it’s fun being one of the only girls,” Dreibelbis said.