Big Bend aviation program spreads its wings

July 02--MOSES LAKE -- Wanna fix some airplanes?

Big Bend Community College announced Friday that more students will be accepted in the college's aircraft repair program with the help of a state Department of Labor grant to expand aviation maintenance programs at nearly a dozen community colleges.

Beginning fall quarter, BBCC will add 18 slots to its current 24 in the school's Aviation Maintenance Technology program, where students learn how to repair, rebuild and service aircraft. The program offers training and two-year associate degrees for FAA mechanic certification in airframe and powerplant maintenance.

Awarded in October, the $20 million grant from the Department of Labor will help fund a network of aviation programs, called Air Washington, at 11 community colleges and one industry apprenticeship program.

BBCC will receive $1.8 million over the next three years to expand its aviation program. The state grant will also fund $700,000 at Wenatchee Valley College for student training in aviation electronics.

BBCC operates one of five airframe and powerplant schools in the state. Other community colleges in the consortium provide degrees and certificates in precision machining, aircraft assembly, composite materials and electronics and avionics.

The college's aviation maintenance program has a fully operational Boeing 727 to use as a classroom. The jet was donated by FedEx in 2007. The college hangar also adjoins the Grant County International Airport -- a busy training facility with one of the longest runways in the western U.S.

"As skilled workers retire from the aerospace industry, there's an increased demand for mechanics and technicians," said Clyde Rasmussen, dean of Professional-Technical Education at BBCC. "The shortage of skilled workers is slowing the growth of some aerospace companies as positions go unfilled."

Air Washington's goal is to train more than 2,600 workers to enter the state's aerospace workforce over the next three years, said Rasmussen. The focus will be on degrees and certificates that can be completed in two years or less.

Dan Moore, a BBCC aviation maintenance instructor, said he recently met with a Boeing executive who said demand for mechanics is increasing in the aerospace industry.

"Right now, Boeing has openings for 170 certified mechanics and estimates a need of 50 more per year for the next five years," Moore said.

Because of demand, chances of landing a high-wage, high-skills job at the end of two years of training are high," Moore said.

One recent BBCC aviation graduate landed his first job at up to $55,000 per year, said Moore.

Plus, it's not just Boeing looking for skilled workers, said Rasmussen. Washington is home to the largest cluster -- more than 650 -- of aerospace companies in the world, he said, and they need to hire 21,000 new workers in the next 10 years.

One industry study says 25 percent of the current aerospace workforce will be eligible to retire by 2014, according to a BBCC press release.

Mike Irwin: 665-1179

Copyright 2012 - The Wenatchee World, Wash.