Pima CC aviation program gets $15 million state budget boost

Arizona’s recently passed budget plan for the next fiscal year includes money for infrastructure, points of entry, education, and more. Another entity to receive a boost in the state budget is Pima Community College, which got a $15 million shot in the arm to expand its aviation technology program.

Students looking to get into the program will have to be put on a one-year waiting list, but once enrolled will learn what they need to find work in the expanding aerospace and defense industries that are thriving in southern Arizona. The funding mirrors what’s going on in those industries in that they currently have a high demand for technicians to work on commercial aircraft.

The $15 million grant will go to fund new facilities for the aviation program and will help to double enrollment from 125 to 250 by the fall of 2021.

“When it comes to program capability and expansion, we have a pretty successful program when it comes to getting people through with our general certificate,” said Jason Bowersock, Academic Director at the Aviation Technology Center. “But with all this attention it’s helped promote the industry, especially with students who want to enroll in the program. The problem is capacity here. We’re just not there yet.”

Pima County has gained more recognition on a national scale in recent years with development in industries such as aerospace and defense. Companies including Raytheon, Sargent, and Bombardier have found their place in the Tucson area while also acting as a proving ground for space technology through partnerships with NASA. Now they’ll have access to a developing future workforce through the Tucson-area’s education system.

Pima Community College (PCC), which has six different campuses throughout the Greater Tucson area, has been helping to educate and train qualified graduates and technicians of tomorrow through the Aviation Maintenance Technician program with a focus on training students to repair and modify aircraft.

The program helps students understand aircraft components, like electrical systems, engines, and avionics. It lasts about 19 months and works with experienced technicians and even those who’ve never picked up a tool in their life. For those already with experience working with military aircraft, there’s an 8-week certification course to prep them for a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test.

The $15 million budget will also help to add planes and classrooms for the growing number of students to train on and in. The industries of defense and aviation are set for an anticipated shortage of talent due to a crop of baby boomers who are now retiring.

This investment will definitely help to boost enrollment. Without this funding we wouldn’t be able to do that on our own. We’re now talking about how the center can see expanded programs in the trade. It further illustrates as to how we see ourselves as contributors to the industry that currently has a massive need for technicians,” said Ian Roark, Vice President of Workforce Development at Pima Community College.

Those in the program finish their studies with about an 85 percent success rate before they take their FAA exams. After that, graduates are ready to take on a promising career with good pay, benefits, and longevity.

Nick Esquer

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