While a lot of students’ experience at Auburn is often dominated by the time they spend on campus, Daniel Donohoe, freshman in professional flight, said his experience has been shaped by the time he has spent five miles above campus.
“Weather permitting, I was flying anywhere from three to five times a week,” he said.
However, with campus deserted and many Auburn students home for the rest of the semester due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Donohoe, and the entirety of the professional flight program, has had to reevaluate and reschedule a large portion of their education.
“Essentially, we haven’t been able to fly,” said Bill Hutto, head of Auburn’s aviation department and the director of the Auburn University Regional Airport.
Not being able to fly is a big issue for the University’s professional flight program since many of its students need time in the air in order to graduate.
That’s because Auburn’s professional flight program, which has more than 300 students, is based on giving students hands-on experience and Federal Aviation Administration certifications which will allow a graduate to work in the aviation industry.
However, because of the stay-at-home order, social distancing and remote-learning programs being implemented by Alabama and the University, many professional flight students — including Donohoe — have been grounded.
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Donohoe said he came back to Auburn early during spring break. He wanted to get a few more flight hours in to catch up when he realized how this outbreak would likely affect his schedule.
“I knew that it was just going to basically put a two to three month halt on it,” he said. “I was hoping that we would open back up for summer and get the stuff done in the summer, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”
Hutto said that one of his priorities is getting students like Donohoe flying as soon as it's safe to do so.
“As quickly as we’re able — and safely — we’ll get everybody back in the air,” he said.
Despite being grounded, Hutto said that a lot of the course work involved in the professional flight program has been able to continue through the University’s remote-learning program.
“For every flight lab — whether it’s private pilot, commercial rating, instrument rating, whatever the case may be — there’s also a ground school which is a three-hour academic course,” he said.
Due to the FAA rules placed on the program, that ground has traditionally had to be administered in a face-to-face setting with instructors and students in the same room. However, since face-to-face contact is being thoroughly discouraged, Hutto said the FAA has relaxed their regulations so that students can continue learning.
“Because of the extenuating circumstances we’re in, we have received approval to continue at least that portion of their flight training through online methods,” Hutto said. “That’s a big step.”
Without being able to continue that training, Hutto said many students in the program would have to retake a lot of their spring semester classes.
“If we were not able to finish those ground courses, then we would essentially have to give incompletes, which would put them further behind,” he said. “I’m proud of the team for being able to get that approval.”
However, even with this FAA approval, the program has a lot of lost ground — or air — to make up.
Hutto suggested that they may try to find additional time to schedule flight blocks for students or possibly have students complete parts of their training between semesters.
“We’re going to have to find a way to catch them up,” he said. “We will have to prioritize and get those students back in the air.”
Donohoe said that even though he is a freshman at Auburn, he is a bit concerned about having to make up for this lost time.
However, he said the program has been responsive to students’ questions, and he’s confident he will be able to catch up.
“If I’m lucky enough to get the same instructor that I've had for the last two semesters, I think we’ll be able to get through it quick,” he said. “He was telling me that as soon as we get back, we are going to hit the flight training hard and just go at it.”
Looking ahead to a time when the concourses are crowded again and the line for Chick-Fil-A stretches once more through the winding halls of the Student Center, Donohoe said he is really looking forward to his first solo flight.
“I was supposed to be able to do that like a week after spring break,” he said. “Now, it is going to be like six months after spring break.”
As with many Auburn students, Donohoe said he has come to realize how much his time on campus has meant to him. Well, his time on campus, and his time above it.
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