CWU unveils new training aircraft

Members of the community along with staff, faculty and students from Central Washington University gather in an aircraft hanger at Bowers Field in Ellensburg for a reception introducing five new training aircraft recently purchased for the CWU Aviation program, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018.

Central Washington University’s aviation program will temporarily run flights at Yakima Air Terminal’s McAllister Field, starting Saturday, June 29,officials confirmed Friday.

CWU was in the process of moving two to three aircraft to Yakima on Friday night, Yakima Air Terminal director Rob Peterson said.

Aviation students will use the aircraft to complete flights required at the end of their training.

The move comes after CWU aviation officials identified a potential safety risk during a check of one of the school’s airplanes earlier this month at Bowers Field, home of CWU’s aviation program. That prompted an investigation by the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office.

During the preflight check, damage was found in the propeller that appeared to be a bullet fragment, said CWU Vice President for Public Affairs Kremiere Jackson.

“We’re focused on moving this portion of the program due to an abundance of safety precautionary measures for our students and faculty,” Jackson said.

The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office sent a scraping of the damaged surface to the Washington State Patrol crime lab to determine the object that struck the propeller. The Federal Aviation Administration also is investigating the incident.

Jackson said she could not confirm whether other parts of the aviation program would end up in Yakima. “It’s an ongoing conversation,” she said.

The flights, however, will be done in Yakima until further notice, Jackson said. “Until we feel it’s safe, that (part of) the program will be there.”

Peterson said several regulations must be met if CWU wants to relocate other aspects of its flight school to the Yakima airport.

For one, CWU would have to get approval from the Flight Standards District Office, a part of the Federal Aviation Administration, to conduct any long-term operations outside Ellensburg, he said.

The flight school also is required to do a certain amount of maintenance on its planes, and all of the school’s maintenance operations are in Ellensburg.

“A lot of things are up in the air,” Peterson said.

CWU’s aviation program is the only fully accredited public university aviation program in the Pacific Northwest, and the school acquired five Piper Archer aircraft for students in late 2017. Central had previously considered the possibility of moving some flight operations to Yakima.

Reach Mai Hoang at maihoang@yakimaherald.com or Twitter @maiphoang