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Bismarck Public Schools gets board OK to buy airplane for student aviation program

Bismarck Public Schools gets board OK to buy airplane for student aviation program

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The Bismarck School Board has given district administrators the go-ahead to purchase a Cessna 150 airplane for the student aviation program at the Career Academy. It will be the first aircraft owned by a school district in North Dakota.

The plane will cost between $15,000 and $30,000, depending on condition and other factors, said Darin Scherr, business and operations manager for the district.

"We'll do all the due diligence to make sure that we're getting a good price," he said.

The Cessna 150, one of the most-produced civilian aircraft, was developed in the 1950s for flight training and touring. It's a two-seater, single-engine propeller aircraft with tricycle landing gear that is easier for students to land. A search of an airplane sales website found the price of a used Cessna 150 running between $17,500 and $69,000, depending on the model.

Scherr said the administration wasn't required to seek school board approval since the purchase falls under the $50,000 public bid threshold under North Dakota law, but it did so Monday "because it maybe could be construed as a sensitive issue."

"Typically, let's say that we were buying a school bus or a van that was this amount. We would just make that happen as administration," he said. "We just didn't feel comfortable enough (in this case) to move forward without their approval."

Owning a plane rather than renting one will save money for the district, as well as for the families of students in the program.

Using a rental plane costs families $10,850 a year and the district $6,650. Ownership will drop that nearly in half, to $5,350 a year for families and $2,963 for the district, according to Scherr. That includes yearly costs, such as insurance and hangar rental, as well as costs for engine and propeller overhauls, which occur every four years.

Career Academy Principal Dale Hoerauf said students won't have to compete with other clients for flight time if the district owns the plane. Ownership allows students to learn other aspects of aviation, as well.

"You're looking at that landing gear, you're actually putting fuel in it, you're looking at oil, and you're doing all that type of maintenance that doesn't come when somebody else owns that airplane. That takes on a whole different aspect of learning," Hoerauf said. 

Bismarck will be the first school district in the state to own an airplane, said Mike McHugh, aviation education coordinator for the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.

"There's not many school districts, if any, that own their own aircraft," he said.

McHugh, a former flight instructor for Bismarck Public Schools, called the purchase "a great opportunity" for students.

Bismarck Public Schools has offered an aviation program for the past 12 years at the Career Academy in which students can learn to fly an airplane. There are about 70 students enrolled in the program.

Grand Forks, Fargo, Minot and Williston are the only other school districts in the state with a high school aviation program.

There are more than 200 students taking high school aviation instruction throughout the state, which McHugh said is "huge for the industry" due to a nationwide shortage of pilots.

"Aviation is ingrained in North Dakota culture, you could say. Between the University of North Dakota (flight school) and just the heritage of aviation around the state, I would say that we definitely have a higher percent of schools offering aviation than a lot of other states," McHugh said.

Reach Bilal Suleiman at 701-250-8261 or Bilal.Suleiman@bismarcktribune.com

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