New program director to build on CNCC Aviation’s 60 years

The buzz of planes overhead has become commonplace in Rangely, Colorado. In large part this is because Rangely is home to Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) where for nearly 60 years they have been training commercial pilots on the western slope of Colorado. CNCC has educated hundreds of pilots around Colorado and beyond. Alumni have excelled in flight operations at airlines, corporate, private and military ventures.

This week, Colorado Northwestern Community College announced the hiring of Nathan Hardin as its new Aviation Flight Program Director. Nathan is an alumnus of the CNCC Flight Program and served as flight instructor for three years and the National Intercollegiate Flight Association (NIFA) team coach, before completing both a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics from Liberty University and a Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership. Prior to accepting the director position with CNCC, Hardin was the Director of Aeronautics at Southwest Aeronautics Mathematics & Science Academy in New Mexico for three years, where he has worked to expand their secondary aeronautics programming and created their drone program. Hardin is also a proud veteran of the U.S. Navy where he served as an Aviation Electronics Technician.

For Hardin, the position is a bit of a homecoming. “The thing that excites me most about becoming the Aviation Program Director at CNCC is the ability to give back to a community and school that has given me so much. As an alumnus of CNCC I am extremely proud of where I came from and I can’t wait to show this community, and the world at large, what we are capable of.”, said Hardin. 

He goes on to explain, “My long term vision for CNCC Aviation is to bring the program into the 21st century. I see a future at CNCC where we are meeting the challenges of the aviation industry by supplying the best trained, most conscientious aviators possible, in the most well equipped and maintained fleet in the state of Colorado.”

That is welcome news for the aviation industry that has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to travel restrictions, many airlines furloughed pilots or offered them early retirement in order to reduce costs. As the world begins to emerge from the pandemic and travel restrictions are being lifted, airlines are struggling to find pilots to meet the rising demand. There are 66,920 aviation jobs open nationwide (over 1,100 in Colorado alone), among 1,668 locations offered by 954 companies.

Thankfully, there are individuals like David Cole who are willing to help. Cole, a former CNCC Flight Program Director and longtime supporter of CNCC’s aviation program, stepped out of retirement to shepherd the aviation program while they searched for the new program director. He points out, “The demand for pilots is high and it’s just going to increase. Frankly, that’s why I’m here. Aviation programs are struggling to find instructors who have the experience to qualify for the position because they’re being taken up by the industry.” 

Cole continues, “I don’t think it has been this bad since the mid 70’s when airlines offered to hire private pilots with a high school diploma and pay for the rest of their training.” 

Prior to the pandemic in 2019, the projected growth in jobs for pilots by 2030 was 10% and for aviation maintenance technicians was approximately 13%. Post pandemic, due to the number of retirements, Boeing forecasts the number of new pilots needed over the next 20 years in North America alone will be 130,000.

CNCC stands prepared to take on the challenge, along with institutional and educational partners “Metropolitan State University (MSU) of Denver has long valued its academic partnerships with CNCC. CNCC’s Aviation Technology program and the Aviation and Aerospace Science Department at MSU Denver have collaborated for decades in developing integrated pathways for students seeking careers in aviation as future professional flight officers.” said Jeffrey Forrest, Chair of the Aviation & Aerospace Science Department at MSU Denver. “We believe that Nathan is the type of leader who will foster and grow collaboration between CNCC and MSU Denver, and be critical to the enhancement of Colorado as a national center for aviation and aerospace educational services and commerce.”

Dr. Lisa Jones, CNCC President, under her new administration has recognized the value aviation has to the region of Northwest Colorado and has committed college resources to expanding an already thriving historical program into a growth oriented program for the future.  Investment of resources and expanded enrollments will be to the economic benefit of the entire western slope. 

“CNCC has a proud history in aviation and deep roots in the industry with partners and friends all over the globe“, notes Dr. Jones. “For many years the program has topped the national rankings as an outstanding two-year aviation program and its graduates are sought globally.”

“Moving forward into the next 60 years, our goals are to expand capacity, opening opportunity for greater numbers of student pilots; utilize aerospace research to continue innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and build upon the existing partnerships we have nurtured in education and industry.”, explained Jones.

About CNCC: Colorado Northwestern Community College enhances people’s lives by providing an accessible, affordable, quality education. It is the college of choice for students seeking a unique education grounded in the Colorado experience. 

Learn more about CNCC at

PRESS RELEASE | Special to the Herald Times

1 Comment

  1. Nathan: Welcome to Colorado. I was one of those “high school grads” that got hired in 1955 by Continental, after being turned down by United and being laughed out of the Mohawk Airlines, chief pilots office in 1954, after hitching 135 miles to take the interview. With the exception of “instrument” rating, all my flying was off the family farm in Wayland, Massachusetts, yoke in left hand “how to” in my right. About every four hours I would hire a instructor to see how I was doing and what was next. In March 1955, Continental called me and wanted me in Denver in two days……made it in two and was interviewed on Monday, physical on Tuesday, Link yes Link, on Wednesday, started school on Thursday. I brought with me SIX friends and graduated students at the flight school I was instructing. All that with high “time” of 720 hours. The highest of the pilots I brought on board was 860 hours! Guess what, they all passed school in flying colors and RETIRED at age 65. What does that tell you? The answer is, it is the basic talent, desire and attitude that determines whether a potential employee is “right” for your company. A thousand hours of PIC time is nonsense in today’s aircraft! Try jumping into a DC-3 for your initial flight, only one pilot in my group had twin engine time! Crosswind, short field operations……kid’s play, that is where we came from. I wold close the throttle over our farm and create a real emergency for the student. After landing we would taxi back, walk up to the house and have a sandwich, then leave, with a student still disbelieving what we had done. At 92, I am finally closing my flying, selling my Cub and don’ look up any more when I hear a plane. The log book reads 33,866 hours (blemish free) rated in 8 aircraft, 3 multi, 6 jets. And all the guys did as good or better! The truth is, you can turn out a student in 500 hours TOTAL flight hours, give him an initial month of ground school and training and send him on his first trip. The “Buffalo” accident was a perfect example of people that were not prepared for what they encountered. Half their fault and half the companies, no excuses by either. I have seen horrible examples of airmanship and have been the one that had to make the call to remove the person from flying in either seat, sometimes after years of overlooking and depending on a good co-pilot to make up for the deficiencies. What aspiring pilots have to work with today is momentous. Try flying a back course, circling approach into COS or a ADF circling approach in Manhattan, Kansas. The majority of today’s pilots would be unable, but it doesn’t matter, unless your making it into Katmandu! Wishing you the best in you new position,and lets settle for 750 TOTAL time, I know its possible. (Only one glitch……do you really believe the stall recovery equipment installed in the “Max” was necessary or just another effort to prove that “single pilot” equipped, part 121 aircraft are safe for every day flights and eventually, transcontinental flights. It is the forerunner of an extensive “conditioning” of the traveling public to accept single pilot aircraft. Takes a lot less pilots, eh? As we say in Canada. My best regards to you and your program. Jerry

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