I wrote an article titled “Back to Your Future — Is this a great time to head back to school?” for the August 2009 issue. It was about AMT training, continuing education, and the current activity of four outstanding AMT schools. Apparently this article was timely because it generated queries to the schools and phone calls to me. One call was from Greg Larsen. Greg didn’t want to go back to school; he wanted to build a school. My first comment was, “WOW! You have taken on a huge challenge.” My next thought was here is a man that really believes in the future of aviation.
When I interview people for these articles I always ask them about their relationship to aviation and specifically to maintenance. Having read Larsen’s biography, I knew that he had never been involved in aviation maintenance so I asked him to tell me his story. He said that his interest was probably genetic. His grandfather, Agnew E. Larsen, was an aircraft design engineer for Pitcairn Aviation and designed the Pitcairn Mailwings used to carry air mail for the U.S. Postal Service, and the unique Autogyros. (One of Larsen’s PA-5 Mailwings is displayed in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.) Pitcairn was sold and after a couple of name changes became Eastern Airlines.
Larsen is the business development manager for the Hagerstown, MD, Regional Airport (HGR), which is located in Western Maryland and has been in operation for about 80 years. The airport and surrounding area have long been associated with aircraft manufacturing and maintenance.
From 1931 to 1984, Fairchild Aircraft was located there and HGR gained the nickname “Home of the Flying Boxcar.” Today HGR is served by Allegiant and Cape Air, and AgustaWestland Inc., Northrop Grumman Corp., and Sierra Nevada Corp. have operations there. The West Virginia Air National Guard Base, Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and BWI, IAD and DCA facilities are a few miles away. HGR employs around a thousand persons and has an annual economic impact of more than $100 million.
Need: Aviation work force
Employed by Washington County, Maryland, Larsen is responsible for ensuring this economic engine continues to run and grow. One of his key tasks is to help develop a skilled work force to meet the needs of the airport’s business community and the local aviation related companies.
Hal Lucas, director - special projects Integrated Mission Systems for Sierra Nevada Corp., advised Larsen that “our critical need is skilled touch labors,” meaning AMT graduates with an A&P from a certified school that trains AMTs using modern aerospace technologies.
The HGR “wrench and rivet gun” workforce that built the Flying Box Cars and the A-10s for Fairchild was not available or probably did not have the necessary training. Lucas and other company managers were experiencing the graying of our aviation work force and shortages of technicians that can manufacture and maintain current aerospace technologies — a serious limiting factor to corporate success.
Solution: Certified maintenance school
In early 2006 Larsen began to research a solution to the work force needs of the HGR aviation companies by analyzing data and having discussions with development experts like Anne Anikis, previously with NASA’s Maryland Space Grant Consortium. Anikis, “his stalwart collaborator,” helped Larsen formalize the proposal that asserted the best solution was a federally certified aircraft maintenance technician school, at or near the airport. Larsen began to socialize his plan around town and started down a challenging path.
In my opinion, good development people like Larsen are nothing short of miracle workers. They have tenacity, perseverance, and are great diplomats. Their strength is the uncanny ability to keep a variety of entities focused and committed to a goal — that an A&P school at HGR was the right solution to local work force needs. Through 2006 and 2007 Larsen developed support and alignment from various groups like the Washington County Commissioners and Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission. The pressure for the solution increased when AgustaWestland located to HGR in the fall of 2007; however, getting and keeping support, commitments, and funding especially during economic downturns is always a challenge.
Job prospects are strong, say aviation employment experts, and openings are increasing for entry-level workers, especially at smaller, regional airlines that serve as feeders for the major carriers.