Back To Your Future

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.

Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics
The Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA) was an off-shoot of the Curtiss-Wright Flight Services which offered aircraft sales and service and provided flight training. Curtiss-Wright Flight Services was founded by Glenn Curtiss and Orville Wright, and in 1929, August G. Becker, who managed the organization for the Curtiss-Wright Corp., leased the operations at Bettis Airport and purchased the school and its facilities. The name was changed to the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, and under Becker’s direction, the focus of the school changed from selling airplanes to focusing on repair and maintenance. PIA has two campuses; the Pittsburgh campus is located near the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin, PA, while the Youngstown campus is located in Vienna, OH, about seven miles north of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

PIA’s core programs include:

  • Aviation Maintenance Technology
  • Aviation Electronics Technology
  • Electronics Systems Technology
  • Mechanical Systems Technology

I visited with Lola Suvak, admissions representative for PIA, who interviews and enrolls new students into PIA’s many degree programs. Suvak told me that all of PIA’s programs result in the Associate in Specialized Technology (AST) degree. Additionally, the aviation maintenance technology (AMT) program has a specific focus on FAA Part 147 training, whereas the aviation electronics technology (AET) program focuses on avionics training. PIA’s AMT FAR 147 program was certified in 1929 and has about 168 students currently enrolled. About 230 students are expected for the fall session.

Other PIA associate degree AET and AMT programs have 38 and 141 students, respectively. Further, about 75 percent of the enrollees at PIA consist of traditional-age college students, with the remaining 25 percent as the “non-traditional” students who are seeking second careers. As with other schools I looked into, the availability of jobs and the industry climate traditionally impact PIA’s enrollment. PIA had been seeing enrollment slowly decline until recently, and it is beginning to see that trend slowly reverse itself.

Suvak says that PIA’s most significant recruiting success comes from an active high school representatives program, where PIA admission representatives go into regional high schools and promote careers in aviation. PIA has also recently launched a new interactive web site that offers sections for prospective students, guidance counselors, parents, graduates, and employers. It is beginning to see an increase in interest from the new site.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) is located in Daytona Beach, FL. ERAU received its Air Agency certificate in May 1965, and has since been offering a variety of aviation programs. Its core programs are:

  • Associate of Science in Aviation Maintenance Science
  • Bachelor of Science in Aviation Maintenance Science
  • Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) Technician certification
  • Avionics Line Maintenance (ALM) Technician certification

According to George DeWees, manager of recruiting, marketing, and admissions, ERAU currently has about 225 students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science/Aviation Maintenance Science program, and another 25 in the Associate of Science program. DeWees agrees that the overall economy does influence enrollment in its aviation programs. ERAU is seeing its enrollment trending up, along with a 10 to 15 percent increase in enrollment every year for the past eight years. ERAU recruits and markets its aviation programs through local TV ads, ads in national magazines, the Internet, trade shows, and college fairs.

DeWees says that in this down economy, ERAU is taking active steps to ensure it provides added value to its students. “In this economy, we are managing our budgets so that we can offer the same number and dollar amounts of scholarships that we have in the past,” he says.

Additionally, when students continue their education in one of Embry-Riddle’s undergraduate degree programs, they will receive up to 48 credits for their A&P certification, and students enrolled in the ALM program receive an additional 12 college credits, an ERAU completion certificate, and the FCC GROL and the NCATT certification.

Another added value for the AMTs that may attend ERAU is the university’s Part 145 engine repair station which is incorporated into the Part 147 curriculum. Students in the A&P program overhaul a fully operational engine that has reached its limit in hours (2,200 hours) and see it returned to service.

Eastern New Mexico University
Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) is New Mexico’s largest regional comprehensive university. It has a four-year campus in Portales, and two-year campuses in both Roswell and Ruidoso. The ENMU Aviation Science department is located at Roswell Airport, and includes a modern facility along with a wide variety of instructional aides that includes a Boeing 727. The ENMU AMT program was certified around 1968, and boasts a reputation as being a school that trains well-qualified entry-level mechanics.

Presently, there are about 20 to 25 majors on site in ENMU’s AMT program. ENMU actively markets its programs and recruits prospective students at career fairs at regional high schools and military bases, and also advertises on radio, TV, billboards, through AMT trade magazines, as well as online and by word-of-mouth.

Dusty Heritage, assistant vice president for academic affairs, had some interesting comments about the challenges ENMU faces in attracting students to its aviation programs. She says that it has seen ups and downs in enrollment in the aviation programs, and she argues that it is difficult to combat the negative messages as shown in the media.

Heritage says that one company’s layoffs or another’s loss incident causes the mainstream media to jump over the entire industry, and not take into account the thousands of meaningfully employed workers in aviation, as well as the industry’s high record of efficiency and safety when shipping goods or traveling by air.

Like other schools, ENMU’s budgets are tight, so it tries to promote the value of the school, and is proud of the fact that ENMU is affordable, so students won’t hit the work force and start under the burden of student loans and other unnecessary debt. Tuition for ENMU’s in-state student in 2008-2009 was $600 per semester to attend full time. Out-of-state students paid $2,060. Additionally, students receive up to 72 hours credit for an A&P certificate (See sidebar). ENMU also offers in-state rates during its summer sessions, as well as an online degree program for professional AMTs.

This can be an attractive option for AMTs that are currently employed, or for some reason cannot travel. According to Robert Elliott, the director of the Aviation Science Program, students in this degree program may complete all of their required courses online. Students can choose from two degree options:

  • Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in aviation science (requires 40 hours of upper division courses)
  • Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science (BAAS) degree in aviation science (requires 18 hours of upper-division courses)

These programs are perfect for those mid-level professional AMTs that have leveled off in their careers or are ready for the next step, generally have some management experience, and in some cases, are currently doing management-level work, but do not have the title or pay grade. Often these individuals find it difficult to move into management because they lack the formal education necessary to meet management position requirements. Online programs such as ENMU’s can provide them an opportunity to obtain a bachelor’s degree at their convenience.

The many advantages of a college degree
According to Elliott, even if the job that you are applying for or currently hold does not require a college degree, people with degrees tend to be more likely to move into the management positions. Employers not only choose them, but are more likely to also pay them more, even in cases where a college degree is not a mandatory prerequisite for the job. The U.S. Department of Labor’s quarterly Occupational Outlook report indicates the median salary of employees with a bachelor’s degree is more than 60 percent higher than that of employees with a high school degree.

It is my strongly held opinion that there has never been a better time or the reasons stronger to obtain a college degree. A college degree is your passport to a better future. While a college degree in and of itself does not make you smarter or better, it does open doors and gives you opportunities that you would not otherwise get. Your families, employers, and the community at large are willing to support you when you are enrolled in college. It always amazes me to see the remarkable change in the attitude of employers once you made the decision to go back to college and obtain your degree. If you lose your job and can find a way to go back to school, I hope you will consider doing so. Getting a certification or degree will speak volumes about you in your next interview, and could launch your career in new and exciting directions.

In researching this article, I reviewed the FAA’s web site to see what predictions they have for our industry. It appears that 2008 and 2009 will be down — no surprise there — but despite our current global economic conditions, the forecast is for long-term growth.

The FAA predicts that air carriers will continue to match capacity with market demand, and that overall available seat mile (ASMs) will drop 6.7 percent this year, and then grow at an average of 3.8 percent per year through 2025.

The FAA predicts that the commercial aviation industry will carry 1 billion passengers by 2021. All signs points to the continued demand for experienced, educated AMT professionals. Plan for the long term and don’t miss the opportunity to brush up your skills or get that degree.

A little effort and sacrifice now will pay big dividends for you, your family, and your employer in the future.

Charles Chandler is AMT’s field editor. He is a Texas-based A&P and received his training at Spartan College. He spoke at Spartan’s graduation ceremonies this year.