Taking flight: SMAT unveils new facility

Originally posted in sentinel-standard.com on June 17, 2011

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IONIA, Mich. — A school that trains students in aircraft maintenance and flight for more than 40 years, unveiled its new facility in Ionia County Friday.

“It’s such an exciting moment to watch this come to fruition,” said President and CEO of the School of Missionary Aviation Technology Bill Jones.

The School of Missionary Aviation Technology (SMAT), located at the Ionia County Airport, has a long history of training students in mission aviation. The benefit for students is that they not only learn how to fly, but also learn FAA-certified training on repairing their aircraft.

“(The new facility) is really nice, and I’m glad for all the people who worked on this to make it possible,” said student David Despres.

The goal of SMAT is to train its students to fly into remote areas of the world, and offer accelerated classes in aviation mechanics and flight at the Ionia County Airport.

“Our purpose in life is to train missionary pilots and mechanics to fly into remote regions around the world to take humanitarian aid, medical supplies, to bring in food and services and respond to disasters,” said Jones. “Flying all over the world in the most challenging regions you can imagine. We are very proud of that, and that is what we do. That is our focus and how we conduct our training.”

Present during the ribbon cutting ceremony were SMAT board members, faculty, students and members of affiliated agencies; as well as Dick, Betsy and Rick Devos; Congressman Vern Ehlers, Rep. Rick Outman, Ionia Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors, community members and local government officials.

“This is an excellent opportunity to the teachers and instructors, but more importantly (the new facility) puts Ionia County on the world map,” said Dick Devos. “(The students) are coming from all over the world, and also going out all over the globe to provide humanitarian opportunities.”

SMAT receives students from all over the world, and after completing both the aviation maintenance year-long course and the flight course, they are prepared to partner with organizations such as Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS), which is a faith-based, non-profit organization traversing the globe on Christian mission services and delivering supplies to isolated villages.

“A school like this, is a huge provider (of aviators),” said Bob Dontje, an aviation recruiter.

He added that the education the students receive is important for the safety of the missionary members, in that they know not only how to safely pilot an aircraft, but can repair it as well.

The new facility has a faculty area, a classroom, a hangar, a main hands-on training area and sub-sections for students to work on different aspects.

“I think it is awesome for this to be in Ionia County, and people need to realize what this can bring to the area,” said Interim Ionia County Administrator Stephanie Hurlbut.

Jones also announced at the ribbon cutting that SMAT is teaming up with Heartland’s Institute of Technology to offer local high school students a chance to learn aviation mechanics.

Jones explained that SMAT instructors will teach Heartland’s students using a state curriculum and some of the FAA-certified teachings.

So far, there are 20 Heartland students enrolled in the fall semester class, and that number is expected to rise when the beginning of the school year nears.

“We are very excited to develop the partnership with SMAT,” said Heartland’s principal Anne Sharkey-Scott.
The program will offer Heartland’s students the chance to see if they would like to continue in the program, and if so, they will be able to start with some knowledge of the field.

“We are really excited about the Heartland’s program starting this fall,” said Jim Sutter, SMAT’s office manager. “There’s a great local benefit for that, and it can be a stepping stone for the students to start the process.”

To learn more about SMAT, visit www.smat-aviation.org.