Ag-aviation expansion canceled at LATI

Dan Crisler Dakota Media Group
Farm Forum

It turns out Lake Area Technical Institute won’t be expanding its ag-aviation program next fall after all.

At the request of President Mike Cartney, the Watertown Board of Educating officially and unanimously canceled LATI’s pursuit of training helicopter pilots next year and fixed-wing aircraft pilots in 2021. LATI had been looking at expanding the aviation program since last October.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Cartney indicated the variables didn’t line up to make the program expansion a reality.

“We spent a lot of time looking at the offers. But at the end of the day, we just didn’t have a common vision,” he said. “We were asking the state to come forward and help us with facilities. They needed to see certain economic indicators that we weren’t sure were going to be there with the offers that we got in.”

In reviewing the expansion offers, the number of which Cartney didn’t disclose, Cartney said LATI did so with the intent of fostering economic development within Watertown, producing a workforce for South Dakota and making sure the two pilot programs were going to be reasonably priced for the students.

“There is a need (for helicopter pilots) in South Dakota. It’s just we just got to find the right provider to get it affordable for our students and with a vision that’s more of a community vision,” Cartney said.

Even though the expansion effort is off the table for now, Cartney said LATI likely will try to add those programs at some point.

“It’s not a decision you want to take lightly. It’s one you want to be very deliberate on and one where you want to be very deliberate on the selection of your partner,” Cartney said. “Maybe we’re wiser to step back and do this again when we know some things we now do.”

If the program does expand, Cartney said it’s more likely that adding the fixed-wing pilot program will reclaim first priority due in part to that segment having a higher demand for pilots.

“Originally, we were going to do the fixed-wing and got approached about doing the helicopter program so that’s why we switched to helicopters first,” he said. “We would probably go back and pursue our original game plan and bring helicopters and drones on later.”