Training for Aviation Mechanics Lands at W. Memphis Community College

Mid-South Community College wants to plug East Arkansans into good-paying jobs tending the aircraft that support a $28.6-billion-per-year chunk of the area economy. Officials announced Tuesday that the West Memphis school will create an aviation mechanics training program from the ground up, with assistance from FedEx Express and $3.4 million in federal stimulus money.

School president Dr. Glen Fenter said FedEx will supply a plane, tools, equipment and expertise and participate in an internship program. "If we had to start this from scratch with our own resources, we simply couldn't do it," Fenter said. "It speaks to FedEx's commitment to the region that they were willing to make this investment in the Memphis metro area."

The Department of Labor awarded Mid-South nearly $3.4 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money to establish the program. Fenter said officials weren't sure when it would be up and running because details must be coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration. "We have begun the conversation with the FAA, and we are identifying staff people and potential instructors," Fenter added.

Fenter credited members of the Arkansas congressional delegation and Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, with helping Mid-South land the training program. "We also appreciate the tremendous commitment FedEx Express has made to this project," Fenter said. "The company has agreed to participate in the internship program so our students can obtain on-the-job training while working toward an FAA Airframe and Powerplant Certificate."

Greg Hall, vice president of FedEx Express Aircraft Maintenance, said, "We are proud of our skilled and talented aviation maintenance technicians. Observing their professionalism and expertise will help prepare MSCC students for future success in the aviation maintenance industry."

Mid-South, which has enrollment of 2,200, was already involved in a stimulus money-funded renewable energy training program, part of a national "green jobs" initiative. Tennessee Technology Center Memphis also operates an aviation program at a campus near Memphis International Airport.

A 2009 study placed direct and indirect economic impact of the airport on the five-county metro area at $28.6 billion in 2007. Officials said the West Memphis program, designed to be replicated in other cities, would respond to a growing market in aviation maintenance. Younger workers will be needed to replace older ones who retire as the field grows from 122,000 to 135,000 jobs by 2016, said Dr. Gibson "Sunny" Morris, executive director of the Arkansas Delta Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development initiative at Mid-South.

By Wayne Risher