Area aviation technology classes are booming

Oct. 13--EVERY CLASSROOM IS FULL -- some are overflowing -- and there's a student at every station in both Cowley College's airframe and power plant classes and in Wichita Area Technical College's aviation training programs.

"We're running out of room," said Diane Wright, chief operating officer with WATC.

The growth, while forcing program leaders to scramble for space, is a positive indicator for the new Jabara Airport technical college campus, scheduled to open in late 2009 or early 2010, said Peter Gustaf, WATC president.

"We are succeeding at getting our programs incubated and up and running," he said. "We'll be in a good position to move into that building with a substantial enrollment already in place."

Design work has been completed and the Jabara project is out for bids. Groundbreaking is expected before the end of the year on the $40 million project, which is largely being funded by Sedgwick County.

In the meantime, WATC is cleaning out a storage room at the airport campus to prepare for the January opening of an avionics class and considering remodeling a nearby hangar to create more space for sheet metal classes.

"Our aviation cabinet making and composites fabrication classes are also growing," Wright said. "We're going to need more space for them as well."

She said the plan is to move the sheet metal classes and expand the other aviation trades classes into space now occupied by sheet metal.

The program has trained more than 100 employees for Hawker Beechcraft since August and has moved 200 students through aviation programs.

"These students are now working in our community, bringing in $8,365,000 in payroll," Wright said.

The college has also put together classes for Boeing's Quality Through Training program, Wright said, and specialized programs for Hawker Beechcraft, Cessna Aircraft, Spirit Aerosystems and Bombardier.

The Cowley College A&P program also has outgrown its surroundings. It expanded this fall, moving into space in the WATC campus at 2021 S. Eisenhower at Mid-Continent Airport. That's in addition to its original location in a Cessna-owned building at Pawnee and Rock Road.

Cowley now has 185 students in the A&P program and projects that 240 students will be enrolled after the January session begins.

"This program has grown from zero to 240 in three years," said Noel Gary, who heads the program. "We're out of room and out of instructors."

Gary said A&P graduates are seeing a nearly 100 percent hiring rate. Most are being hired locally.

"A lot of these students are already working," Gary said. "But when they graduate, they'll be getting a $5 to $6 an hour pay raise. That's a lot of additional buying power."

Gary said he is pleased with the progress that has been made in the 3 1/2 years since the Kansas Technical Training Initiative began working toward improved technical education to meet the needs of Wichita's aviation employers.

"I think we have built a sound foundation and from here it only goes up," he said.

Reach P.J. Griekspoor at 316-268-6660 or []

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