NetJets has cemented a longstanding relationship with the Ohio State University Airport by donating airplanes to the flight school.

The Columbus-based company, a pioneer in the concept of fractional jet ownership and a leading private aviation firm, has pledged to donate seven Cessna 172 Skyhawk training aircraft to the university's aviation program, which is based at the northwest Columbus airport.

In a Nov. 28 ceremony in Hangar 1, Chris Yates, the Ohio State College of Engineering chief advancement and economic-development officer, called the pledge of the single-engine training planes the latest chapter in the history of the company's philanthropy.

The combined value of the aircraft is about $2 million, according to Matt Schutte, director of communications for the College of Engineering, which oversees the airport and aviation program.

"For our students, it's a tremendous donation to our fleet," said Brandon Mann, director of flight operations at the Ohio State airport.

He said the airport currently has 17 planes, including 11 Cessna 172s, in its training fleet.

The advanced technology with which the new planes will be equipped also is important, Mann said.

Doug Hammon, director of the airport, said one Cessna 172 training aircraft would be received before the end of the year. Two more are expected to arrive in 2018 and two more in 2019, he said.

The timetable for donation of the remaining two planes has not been determined, Hammon said.

College of Engineering dean David B. Williams said a 2011 NetJets donation of $2 million to establish the Center for Aviation Studies was a key factor in Ohio State keeping its airport.

"It is not hyperbole to say that but for NetJets, Ohio State aviation and flight education might not be here today," he said. "Truly we owe NetJets our very existence."

At that time, then-Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee was seeking to sell the airport property, but the $2 million donation enabled him to convince both Gee and the university's board of trustees to keep the program alive, Williams said.

"I cannot express in words what this means to the college and particularly to the students," he said of the seven training aircraft.

Seth Young, director of aviation studies at Ohio State, called the 2011 donation the "rebirth of aviation" at the airport.

"We will use the seven new aircraft to make sure pilots are trained in 21st-century aviation," Young said.

A press release about the donation said the new planes would "enable Ohio State to keep up with demand from students interested in flying careers. Since 2013, enrollment in aviation majors has increased dramatically from less than 100 to 260. Nearly half of these students are focusing on professional pilot certification."

During his remarks, Alan Bobo, NetJets executive vice president of operations, spoke of being raised by his single mother in rural Georgia.

Bobo said he dreamed of one day becoming a pilot and got his first experiences in a plane doing odd jobs at an airport in McCollum, Georgia. Such opportunities no longer exist for young people, he said.

"The reality is without programs like this ... to keep airports open, it does not allow young people to have dreams," he said. "It's more than a college. It's more than an airport. It's about our next generation of pilots having dreams."

Bobo said he looks forward to being able to hire the first pilot who trained on one of the donated Cessnas.