Valley Aviation Center Trains Aircraft Mechanics for Job Growth Amidst Economic Downturn

Founded in 1973 and operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District's North Valley Occupational Center, the Aircraft Mechanic School is ranked among the top in the country and one of the only programs of its kind open to high school students.


(Van Nuys, Calif.) Despite California’s double-digit unemployment rate, career opportunities for students at Van Nuys Airport’s Aircraft Mechanic School are flying high. Enrolled at the only airframe and power plant mechanics training program of its kind in California, graduates who pass the required Federal Aviation Administration certification exam are virtually guaranteed jobs.

“The Aircraft Mechanic School is probably the best-kept secret at Van Nuys Airport,” said Curt Castagna, president of the Van Nuys Airport Association (VNAA), a non-profit tenant organization that recently established a student scholarship program. “The school provides hands-on training to prepare men and women for high-skilled, high-paying jobs working for major and regional airlines, corporate flight departments, and aerospace products and parts manufacturing companies, among other aviation facilities.”

Founded in 1973 and operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s North Valley Occupational Center, the Aircraft Mechanic School is ranked among the top in the country and one of the only programs of its kind open to high school students. Offering a combination of classroom lecture in 45 individual subject areas and shop-oriented projects, its facilities include a high-bay hangar in which students work on actual propeller aircraft, jets and helicopters.

Approximately 150-200 students are enrolled each year in the two-year program, which is free to high school students and costs about $500 total for older students including summer session. Both day and night classes are available.

Statistics indicate a persistent demand for both experienced and entry-level certified aircraft mechanics in the aircraft maintenance industry today. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (www.bls.gov/oco/ocos179.htm), employment for aircraft mechanics and avionics equipment technicians is expected to increase by seven percent during the 2008-2018 period.

In addition, most job openings for aircraft mechanics will stem from the need to replace the many mechanics expected to retire over the next decade. Also contributing to favorable future job opportunities is the long-term trend toward fewer students entering technical schools to learn skilled maintenance and repair trades. If this trend continues, the supply of trained aviation mechanics may not keep up with the needs of the air transportation industry.

There are currently an estimated 121,500 aircraft mechanics and service technicians in the U.S., with a projected employment of 129,300 over the next seven years. Wages can range from $18 to $50 per hour, or higher.

“As part of our mission to save airport jobs and businesses, as well as to prepare the future aviation workforce, the Van Nuys Airport Association is pleased to award two $500 scholarships to deserving students,” Castagna said. “Aircraft maintenance is one of the most important jobs in the aviation industry, affecting the safety of millions of passengers per year. This is a good news story in the midst of the general aviation industry’s most severe economic downturn.”

Castagna said the scholarship program was founded in October 2010 in the memory of the late Milton A. Widelitz, one of VNAA’s original founders and also the founder of Aerolease Associates, a master leasehold at Van Nuys Airport since 1977. While the company provided the initial funding, a portion of all future VNAA membership fees will benefit the scholarship program.

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