Arizona schools prepare to meet rising demand in aviation

As the aviation industry in the United States faces growing worker shortages, schools across Arizona are preparing to feed the demand with certified and skilled labor.

Projections for the next 20 years forecast that the industry will need 804,000 new civil aviation pilots, 769,000 new maintenance technicians, and 914,000 new cabin crew, according to the 2019 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook

There are now dozens of aviation programs across Arizona–and spots available–to train technicians, unmanned flight operators, drone electricians, pilots and more for the industry. 

High school programs offerings low-cost to no-cost  

For high school students in Arizona, there are spots available in aviation programs at little or no cost at institutions like Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC), East East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT), and South Mountain High School. 

At West-Mec in the West Valley, a two-year program and certification in its aviation and drone  programs costs high school students $500. Students in the adult program pay about $14,000. 

Many high school students come from low-income neighborhoods and are able to move into high paying jobs upon graduation, said Greg Donovan, superintendent of West-MEC, which serves 48 high schools throughout the West and North Valley in the Phoenix metro region.  

“After completion of the program, students walk away with their Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airframe, general, and powerplant certifications. This means they are ready to work in the lucrative aviation industry and become financially independent,” Donavan said. 

Aviation maintenance students work with industry veterans in an airplane hangar with small aircraft and a Learjet. Major airlines and aviation and aeronautics industries and schools partner with or are on the West-MEC’s advisory council–companies like American Airlines, Honeywell, Hawaiian Airlines, Concord Aviation, MD Helicopter, Performance airgroup, Lufthansa, Fire-tec Aero Systems, and Embry Riddle University. 

Pima Community College aviation program expansion 

At the college level, there are many offerings for aviation at both public and private schools including Cochise and Pima community colleges. 

Last year, Pima Community College received $15 million to expand its aviation technology program to double student enrollment. The new space is set to open in 2021. It offers aviation technician and aircraft airframe mechanics certifications. Many of its students are moving into defense industry jobs in the Tucson region.

State’s aviation industry pours $38 billion into economy

For graduates of these programs, there is much opportunity. 

Arizona’s aviation industry continues to grow, and it is home to one of the busiest airports in the world, Sky Harbor International Airport. The industry generates more than 470,000 jobs and contributes more than $38 billion annually to the economy, according to the Arizona Commerce Authority.

In addition to 83 airports throughout the state, it is home to hundreds of defense companies and 20 military installations. Top companies like Raytheon Missile Systems, General Dynamics C4 Systems, BAE Systems, and ATK’s Integrated Weapon Systems.

Spots available 

Here’s a sampling of a few aviation programs across the state: 

West-Mec in Glendale offers training and FAA certification programs in airframe, general and powerplant certifications, and drone electronics. It has programs for adults as well.  

East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) serves the East Valley including Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, offers aviation programs including training to earn an FAA private pilot’s license. Eighty-eight percent of high school students in the aviation program earn their private pilot license and/or unmanned aircraft systems remote pilot certificate. Adult programs, too.

South Mountain High School in Phoenix offers private pilot’s certificate program without cost. Since its inception, the program has produced over 400 pilots. The program also provides students with academic and hands-on training in areas like air traffic control, and airframe and powerplant maintenance.

Pima Community College, which is undergoing an expansion of its program and facilities, offers aviation technician and aircraft airframe mechanics certifications.

Cochise Community College celebrated its 50th anniversary of its aviation program last year. In addition to a professional pilot program, it offers certifications in aerospace thermal fusion, aerospace welding technology, unmanned aerial system operator, unmanned aerial vehicle flight operator, and more.  

Victoria Harker

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