National Recognition & New Partnership a Testament to School’s Excellence


The Fundamentals Flight Training school (FFT) at Erie International Airport started the new year off on a high note receiving national recognition and entering into a partnership with Gannon University for its new aviation program. 

Created to provide the Erie area with safe and affordable flight training from private pilot through commercial, FFT provides both Part 141 and Part 61 instruction featuring three different Cessna 150s, two Pipers, and an FAA-certified AATD simulator.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the world’s largest aviation association, recently recognized FFT as a Distinguished Flight School for its high standard of accomplishment in flight training. 

FFT partners with local schools and their aviation programs, including PennWest Edinboro University, which offers an Associate in Aeronautical Science degree, and the Community College of Beaver County’s nationally recognized James M. Johnson School of Aviation Sciences which offers two-year degree programs in Professional Pilot, Air Traffic Control, and Aerospace Management. 

“Successful flight training is about more than just learning to fly. Building a sense of community to support the people who are learning takes the experience to a much higher level where they can excel. This year’s instructors and schools have clearly brought their customers into the pilot community,” said Chris Moser, AOPA Foundation senior director of Flight Training Education.

The 2024 AOPA awards were drawn from flight students and pilots who voluntarily reviewed their flight training experience this past fall through an online You Can Fly 2024 Flight Training Experience Survey, yielding feedback from 780 different flight schools and 1,202 individual flight instructors. 

“This award is especially meaningful to us because it’s based on what students think of our school,” said David Benson, owner of Fundamentals Flight Training. “We’re thankful to all our students who participated in the survey, and honored that so many regard our school so highly.”

On February 8, Gannon University, located just 6 miles from Erie Airport, announced that they’d be launching their own aviation flight program with FFT next school year to offer students the chance to earn associate or bachelor’s degrees in Aviation & Business Management. They’re currently accepting applicants for the fall semester.

“With a long, flat runway and active control tower, Erie Airport is the perfect training space for FFT and local schools to offer students real-life experience which is so important,” said Derek Martin, executive director of the Erie Regional Airport Authority. “David and the rest of his team are great at what they do, and they’re just who you want mentoring the next generation of pilots.”

As with most smaller-sized airports in the country, Erie Airport is still reeling from pandemic-related layoffs and buyouts and the resulting pilot shortages which is one of the main reasons why Erie hasn’t been able to offer the number of flights it would like. The aviation programs that Gannon University and other schools through FFT offer hopes to help meet the rising demands in the field and consequently bring more flights to Erie Airport and others like it.

“There are about 15,000 pilots expected to retire at the mandatory age of retirement at 65 in the next 10 to 15 years. We recognize there’s going to be a continued demand, a continued need for these experts and commercial pilots so we’re looking forward to continue to train and develop them,” said Sarah Ewing, Ph.D., provost of Gannon University student experience.