Mission aviators open new Ionia school

Originally posted in Woodtv.com on June 17, 2011

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) – The new facility for the School of Missionary Aviation Technology sits inside a hangar next to the Ionia County Airport, 20,000 square feet where students will learn to maintain and fly airplanes into some of the most remote areas on Earth.

For more than 40 years, missionary pilots and mechanics have been trained through the school. Friday, officials cut the ribbon to open up their new space.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Bill Jones, the President and CEO of SMAT. “We have a lot of people who have had the opportunity to make this day possible.”

Among those people is Dick DeVos.

“I love all things aviation and I can appreciate the need for aircraft to do unique and special missions,” he said. The new SMAT location is officially known at the DeVos Aviation Campus.

DeVos and his wife, Betsy, who recently began the West Michigan Aviation School, donated and raised money for the new building. Though they’re not currently connected, Dick DeVos wouldn’t rule out linking the two schools at some point in the future.

“As a pilot and as a Christian,” he said, “this was a real confluence for me.”

Now it’s up to the instructors to do the work.

There are about 25 students per class, and sessions last eight hours a day, five days a week. The course takes between one and two years to complete.

One student is Jonathan Lake. “My dream is to go back to Africa,” Lake told 24 Hour News 8, “where I spent many years as a child and serve the people there.”

He and others are learning the inner workings of small Cessnas, as well as how to land them on difficult terrain without a team of mechanics to help.

Maintenance instructor Duane Linsley said maintenance is the key. “It’s not an issue of waiting until it breaks, it’s a matter of inspection and determining when it needs to be fixed before that happens.”

The ultimate goal is to bring humanitarian aid, food and medical supplies to Third World countries , but there is a bigger picture.

“Mission aviation is a very important link to getting the Bible to people who don’t have it,” said the school’s Jim Sutter. “And that’s what our end goal is.”