Back To Your Future

Is this a great time to head back to school?


United Airlines recently announced that it has asked Boeing Co. and Airbus to propose dueling bids for up to 150 new airliners. Will you be ready? I ask, because someone is going to have to build, fly, service, and maintain those new United airplanes. While the outlook may appear a little cloudy in our industry at this moment, the sunshine will return, and it will return in the form of opportunities that we have yet to imagine.

During an economic downturn and thinning job market, the competition for jobs gets fierce. Applicants with job skills that are current and marketable tend to have an edge. This is good news for those AMTs either entering or currently enrolled in a basic Part 147 AMT or aviation degree program.

I thought it might be useful to examine some of the schools and colleges that have AMT programs and see if we could get a snapshot of what is happening in the economic cycle. I surveyed four institutions that have aviation programs and asked them the same three general questions:

1) What programs do they offer?
2) How are they doing in this economy? And,
3) What are they doing to attract and keep students in their programs?

Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology
Spartan is an icon in aviation training. It was certified in 1928 and has trained about 80,000 students. Founder W.G. Skelly, president of Skelly Oil Company, had a practical, as well as somewhat progressive, world view. He felt that pilots and mechanics should be cross-trained in order for both groups to develop a greater understanding of aircraft performance. For this reason, Spartan has always been both a first-rate flight and maintenance school. The college also still maintains the founder’s philosophy by offering AMTs free ground school, as well as a significant discount for pilot training. Spartan continues to maintain its image of being a school focused on providing AMT students the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge through intense practical application. This is supported by its 2,160-hour AMT program.

Spartan College President Jeremy Gibson told me that Spartan has 45 aircraft assigned to its Flight department and 27 to the AMT programs. The Spartan Flight School is located at RL Jones airport located south of Tulsa, OK. RL Jones is the fifth busiest general aviation airport, as well as the 27th busiest airport in the nation. This level of traffic gives Spartan students a taste of what they can expect in the line maintenance environment at major and regional hubs around the country.

I specifically asked about activity in and placement of students in their core aviation programs.

  • Aviation Maintenance Technology
  • Avionics Maintenance Technology
  • Associate of Applied Science
  • Bachelor of Science in Aviation Technology Management

Spartan currently has about 1,000 students enrolled in its AMT programs and expects to have about 1,350 by the end of the summer. Students are recruited from job fairs, advertising, online sites, and considerable word-of-mouth recommendations from alumni and employers. Ron Worthington, vice president of student services, says that enrollment generally picks up during economic downturns. Enrollment has grown about 18 percent over the last year and is up 23 percent from last month. Worthington says that students are coming to Spartan for a variety of reasons. There are jobs to be filled in aviation, AMT wages are up over last year, and employers are looking for applicants that have higher technical skills. On-campus recruiting by prospective employers is still occurring regularly, and Spartan is having some success in placing students not only in aviation, but other industries, like automotive, trucking, and wind energy.

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