Vaughn College's interest in Redbird Skyport is simple enough to understand. But what about Redbird's interest in Vaughn?
What is it about Vaughn College, 2,000 miles from San Marcos and Skyport, that is so appealing to Redbird?
"To find a college like Vaughn, that wanted to develop a high-quality flight program was ideal for us," Jerry Gregoire, a former top executive at Dell and Pepsi who founded Redbird six years ago, says. "At the same time, we get to use Vaughn's students to test everything here, from the simulators right down to the customer service representatives."
The Vaughn-Redbird partnership dates to mid-September, when the College and simulator manufacturer signed an agreement enabling Vaughn students to pursue private pilot certification at Skyport, in south central Texas. Students complete academic studies at Vaughn, then enjoy three weeks of intense simulator and in-air training from Redbird's staff of instructors.
Both parties believe this will revolutionize flight training, making it less costly for students, particularly those from, say, New York, where high fuel and maintenance costs coupled with a limited number of ideal flying days are a deterrent.
"Flight instruction is a very expensive process," Gregoire says. "Here, we have 300 days a year where the ceiling is above 3,000 feet with unlimited visibility. Still, this represents a real sacrifice on Vaughn's part to do it here because we're not around the corner."
Despite its $2.7-million investment in Skyport, Gregoire says Redbird still primarily considers itself a simulator manufacturer. While Vaughn students can take advantage of Redbird's top-of-the-line training equipment, they also provide Redbird with "test pilots" for the entire facility, key to Skyport's growth potential.
"When you peel everything away, Skyport is essentially a laboratory," Gregoire says. "The feedback I have received is that Vaughn students are well-prepared and we have been able to collect so much data on the facility from them."
Redbird Chairman Jerry Gregoire, left and Vaughn College President Dr. John C. Fitzpatrick.