In 2008 he pitched his idea to some local and state educational institutions. They were interested but seemed more focused on electronics, communications, medical, and other green technologies, not aviation. Larsen persevered, continuing to look for ways to get his A&P school built. The pressure again increased in October of 2009 when Sierra Nevada Corp. (Hagerstown) won a $610 million contract with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection division.
Developing the business plan
Somewhere along the way Larsen realized he was part of the problem. In one of our interviews I asked him if he had started with a process or project plan for this initiative. He laughed and said no. He thought that the need was apparent and the A&P school solution was so logical that funding and implementation would follow with ease.
Most truthful project managers will tell you that there comes a time in a project, usually in one of those long sleepless nights, when you truly understand what you are up against. According to Larsen he had two such moments.
In the spring of 2008 Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA) expressed interest in developing an A&P program at HGR. The first enlightenment came on June 26 when he visited PIA’s facilities and realized the scope and scale of his initiative. A&P schools are big, physical, equipment heavy, and project intensive technical schools. Also, they are complicated education entities due to the industry’s strict and complex requirements, rules, and regulations. Larsen returned to HGR and back to the drawing board. After additional analysis and discussions with colleagues and various committees, they refined their goals and objectives. The analysis indicated that the need for an AMT program at HGR was more critical than ever. They all agreed on these key factors:
• The program must be FAA certified college or university; accreditation would be advantageous but not critical.
• The program must be broadly supported by the region’s aerospace industry.
• The earliest realistic start date would be fall of 2010.
Larsen developed a comprehensive business plan, continued discussions with HGR and area businesses, and had discussions with various committees and elected officials, including local school officials to Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. The project was gaining traction but still had some hills to climb. I had an opportunity to look at one of Larsen’s to-do lists with the following four items:
• FAA approval
• College/university affiliation(s)
My reaction: Please just shoot me.
Larsen realized that his second challenge was how to clearly demonstrate the aviation work force need and its significant economic potential to HGR, and talking only would never get him to his objectives. In a news article, he said, “It was very hard for me to explain to somebody who is an engineer or a mechanic or a technician what it is that these companies are doing, so the thought was to provide them with a firsthand view of the floors of the operations and to provide them with an opportunity to hear firsthand from the principals of those operations what their vision is.” His approach for this problem was one that diplomats have used with great success. It was time for a party with a lot of show-and-tell and face-to-face discussions.
Larsen needed to send out some invitations and had read the August 2009 AMT article, “Back to Your Future” about AMT education. He emailed me in September 2009 asking for a top 10 list of the schools, colleges, and institutions in the United States that offer AMT programs.
I recommended four or five institutions. The HGR “Fam Tour” was held on Dec. 2, 2009 during which Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, National Aviation Academy, Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA), Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore toured the AgustaWestland Inc. facilities. National, Spartan, and PIA expressed interest in establishing an AMT program in Hagerstown. Was Larsen’s show-and-tell party a success? On May 11, 2010, Herald-Mail writer Heather Keels reported:
“Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics to Open School at Hagerstown Regional Airport”
“WASHINGTON COUNTY — The Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics plans to open a school at Hagerstown Regional Airport early next year to train a local work force for aviation maintenance technician jobs, PIA director James Mader said Tuesday.