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Bruce Smith: UND needs to address concerns

By Bruce Smith

Having read the Aviation Department's "no confidence" document and the response letters from UND President Kennedy and the Aviation Department chair, I feel the Aviation Department's concerns are valid and I support their position.

The August 2015 Faculty Survey also supports the Aviation Department's position. It is important to note that the aviation faculty made up less than 10 percent of the 350 faculty that responded to that survey. So at that time it was not only Aviation with those concerns.

Flight Operations at the Odegard School are unique and complex. Its success is based on quality and safety. Financially, it is a break-even model. The undergraduate students are only charged for what it costs to provide their training. There is no place to cut corners.

Some examples of the complexity of Flight Operations are: Expendables — gas, oil, tires, batteries; airport fees paid as a tenant on the airport such as snow removal, fire and emergency services; aircraft costs; aircraft maintenance; building operations and maintenance; insurance; instructor and staff salaries; records keeping; AIMS — Airport Information Management System; ramp and tarmac upkeep; and the list goes on.

Flight Operations has to be run as a business. It is like running a major airline, only with smaller aircraft.

During the meetings with UND Finance, the deans and the Huron Consultants who established MIRA (The university's new budget model) it was determined that flight fees were considered to be a "direct flow through" and not subject to the 15 percent participation fee/subvention tax. If the subvention tax were to be applied, flight fees would have to be raised more than 15 percent to cover the increase. This would not only be unfair to the aviation undergraduates but also limit the Odegard School's ability to be successful in a highly competitive marketplace.

Flight fees need to be set by flight operations and people with the knowledge of what it takes to run a quality, safe and efficient operation. You can't have a group of people with no aviation/flight operations background determining what the flight fees should be. The Aviation Department and Flight Operations have been making good decisions for 50 years. I don't see that ever changing. When something as complex as Flight Operations runs as smoothly as it does, people have the tendency to perceive that it is easy. It is far from easy.

It is also not a matter of communication. Communication is a two-way dialogue not a one-way directive. You can have regularly scheduled meetings and still not be communicating. It is also not a matter of leadership on the part of the dean of the Odegard School. The concerns voiced by the Aviation Department are real and the leadership of the college can't, nor shouldn't, try to redirect those concerns.

To be successful the Aviation Department and Flight Operations need to have a reasonable amount of trust and autonomy. The justification for this lies in the fact that the Odegard School has the reputation as the pre-eminent aviation college in the country. The results speak for themselves and warrant this level of trust and autonomy.

The Odegard School is the crown jewel, not only at UND, but in the aviation industry. This reputation is the result of the expertise, background, experience and efforts of a very talented and committed Aviation faculty. The university needs to address their concerns.

Bruce A. Smith, Ph.D., is dean emeritus of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.