Utropia sits down with Jon Morten Nordang, who is among the first-ever graduates of UiT’s brand new Bachelor in Aviation (luftfartsfag), to discuss a course where the classroom is at 5000 feet.
In the past, wannabe Scandinavian pilots had two options to get their wings: either join the armed forces or invest 100,000’s of Norwegian crowns at a private flight school and hope that whatever job comes out of it will be enough to pay all that back. Now though, there is a third option. Go to an exclusive flight school with only 11 other students and get trained as absolute beginner and leave as Chuck Yeager. And here is the kicker: UiT picks up the tab.
Launched back in Autumn 2009, the programme is still in its infancy. So far, only one class has gone through, having just graduated this summer. In an interview with Jon Morten Nordang- a now full-fledged pilot who was among the first in the programme- he paints a picture of what those three years were like and what can be expected for the future.
Admission process is tough!
Clearly, if the university is going to be taking care of the cheque at the end of the three-year course, they are going to make sure from the outset that the students admitted into the programme are the most likely to pass and become pilots in the professional world. For this reason, the admission process is tough. Certainly a lot harder than to get into a private flight school. Broken up into three parts:
The first part takes all the applicants (which was 283 for the programme’s maiden voyage) and whittles that down to the 60 best qualified based on their application.
The second part invites students down to the Norwegian Air Force’s selection centre in Rygge for more testing that will further reduce the number of students from 60 to just 12 with a couple in reserve. Besides exams on Mathematics as well as knowledge of Norwegian and English, candidates will have to run the gauntlet of psychological evaluations that include spatial awareness, co-ordination and information processing. Part two finishes, interestingly enough, on an interview with pilots and a psychologist where the potential student is asked about, among other things, their motivation for becoming a pilot. The final part consists of a thorough medical exam covered by UiT. If anyone should fail this, those in reserve can be called up to take their place.
For those who do not get passed the initial stage, they can always try next semester. Unlike with many degrees at UiT, the Bachelor of Aviation looks to admit a new batch of 12 students very semester, rather than annually.
For those who do make it, congratulations. But freshly-admitted students can forget about Tromsø. It may be Universitetet i Tromsø, but after their first semester fulfilling their maths, physics and Ex.Phil requirements, they will be anywhere but. In order for the university to make this course a reality, they teamed up with Sweden’s Trafikflyghögskolan (TFHS) in Lund where students move to complete their three years. The closest the recent graduates got to Tromsø was Bardufoss whose aerodrome was used for some training.
It is not just about becoming a pilot: you get a degree too!
The curriculum is not only a balance between practical and ground-school, but also between UiT and JAR-FCL. The latter is the European pilot certification/licencing group and their relation with the university is most notable with the exams. For every major theory-based test conducted by JAR, there is a form of “pre-test” administered by UiT to check that students are ready. Fail it, and they are not allowed to sit JAR’s. There is some sane rationale behind this. If the university is paying- like a parent- they expect to see the grades and for them to be high, which in flight school is a pass vs. a fail.
But what really sets this programme apart from traditional flight schools is the whole package. Not only do you graduate with a Commercial Pilots Licence that includes Instrument and Multi-Engine ratings, but you learn some acrobatics and get a university degree as well. This last point is key.
Alongside flight school, students learn business, company logistics and are required to do a project for the university in place of a dissertation to receive their degree. For example, Nordang along with a couple others designed a new weather chart. This means that while they are trained pilots, the recent graduates could also work in many other areas of the airline business- from administration to logistics. And in a world where jobs are few and far between, a degree that offers great professional flexibility is welcome.
UiT: University and now, Airline.
It is only one year old, but already there are many changes to the programme. One set of alterations is small and concerns the individual courses, which have undergone some minor tweaking. The other is a little bigger- about the size of a Cessna or Piper. Originally, UiT had wanted to host the programme itself in Bardufoss. Sadly, the government grant they were expecting had not come in time, which led to the team-up with TFHS in Lund.
Now, the money is in the bank and the university is fielding offers from major aircraft manufacturers to build up its own mini-fleet of planes that will be housed in Bardufoss. Starting in Spring 2012, the bulk of the programme will be moved there, where the students will train in university property that will include single-engine and multi-engine planes and even one day a simulator. There will still be cooperation with TFHS and some use of the aerodrome in Lund for practice at a high-traffic airport. But for the most part, the programme will stay in Norway.
Firstly, students must know Norwegian, which eliminates most international prospects. But if you are Scandinavian, the indications are good. As mentioned above, the degree does inadvertently address the current economic climate by giving the students a qualification that can be applied to a greater range of careers. However, there is one side to the economic crisis that the degree cannot help. Airline cut-backs. In the past, airlines would cover the training necessary for pilots to get certified for their planes.
Now, some companies have the pilots cover the cost which is around NOK150,000. So while the university will provide free education and training, students may still need to dish out large amounts before they can actually begin working. But there is a silver lining. Even though the programme is very new, it has piqued the interest of a number of airline companies, some of whom will cover the costs for additional training.
In summation: Luftfartsfag, in a world with too few jobs, may just be what will make employers choose UiT pilots over others. Plus, there is an idea of introducing a Master’s level (may-be then they will have courses for helicopter.) And did we mention that it is free.