Joan T. Stylianos's Heart of Manchester: Aviation program is taking flight

College is expensive.

Tuition alone can cause a blow to one’s finances no matter what school is chosen.

I don’t have a child in college, and apparently my mindset is stuck in the early 1980s. Get this: In-state tuition at UNH in 1981 was $1,150. I know, the amount sounds totally unreal.

Despite ballooning tuitions at both public and private colleges and universities, more educational options are available today, and even a small city the size of Nashua offers excellent opportunities right in our own backyard.

Rivier University, Nashua Community College and St. Joseph School of Nursing are three examples.

And for those dreaming of Nashua returning to its aeronautic roots (and routes), there’s an exciting new pilot’s journey unfolding here. Air Direct Airways Flight Academy is partnering with Southern New Hampshire University to launch an aviation program in the Gate City.

SNHU now owns the airport hangar of the former nearby Daniel Webster College located at Nashua Airport’s Boire Field. The university made the purchase at a bankruptcy sale of the once popular flight school/college in late 2017.

Capt. David Plantier (ATP, CFIIME) is a delight to speak with because his passion for flying and education is so evident. He is the chief instructor pilot and aerospace education administrator at the Gate City’s Air Direct Airways Flight Academy located at Perimeter Road at Nashua Airport. He realizes the expensive pricetag of larger four-year institutions that charge tuitions close to $250,000 for an aviation education.

The innovative curriculum that he and James Smith, SHNU’s executive vice president, have developed will accommodate students with a program that is cost-effective and allows intensive flying time and one-on-one training correlated with associated classroom courses under the Aviation and Operations Management (AOM) degree program.

Plantier and Smith (the former U.S, ambassador to Saudi Arabia) are excited to see their one-of-a-kind collaboration take flight, so to speak. Immediately, the student gets up close and personal with the aircraft. In other words, it’s time to lay down the laptop, tablet or old-fashioned pen and pencil.

“The curriculum is non-traditional,” Plantier says. “You get in the cockpit the first day. You’re flying two times a day; if it’s raining we do ground. If it’s a nice day, we fly. It’s real-world training.”

The goal is for each student to achieve a rating as a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) at the end of the first year. This unique concept allows the individual to serve as a flight instructor for the remainder of their time as a student. It’s a win-win because the student gets to build an impressive record of flight hours prior to graduation.

The program will kick off on May 14, and the curriculum for incoming students (freshmen) begins on July 6.

Because of its new partnership with SNHU, Air Direct Airways Flight Academy is looking to hire more flight instructors.

If you’re interested in teaching or want to know more about the new aviation program, call Plantier at (603) 882-5606, or email him at

You can also get in touch with Tim Whittum, the Director of Freshman Admission at Southern New Hampshire University. Call him at 603-645-9709.

“The nation is in need of many more pilots,” Plantier said. “Our intention is to make this area the center of aviation training.”

Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at