Victorville Group to Launch Mechanics Classes

A Victorville group plans to propel the area's work force with aircraft maintenance classes scheduled to take off this fall or early 2008.

The Victor Valley Aviation Education Consortium will use $75,000 from the San Bernardino County Workforce Investment Board to buy equipment for ultrasonic magnetic particle inspections and other sorts of test equipment.

Instructors will use the equipment to train aircraft mechanics at Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville. The consortium's goal is to help airport aerospace companies fill 150 to 300 new mechanics jobs needed each year.

The 1,900-hour course, certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, is aimed at local high school graduates. Students will learn skills working for companies at Southern California Logistics Airport, earning $10 to $15 an hour. They will attend classes in the evening.

Airframe classes will include training in sheet metal, welding and aircraft engines. Propulsioncourses will include studies on aircraft engines, propellers and fuel systems.

Upon completion, students will take tests to become FAA-certified aircraft mechanics, who earn $25 an hour. Experienced mechanics earn about $33 an hour.

The program already has a waiting list of 35 individuals interested in becoming aircraft mechanics, Barbara Halsey, director of the work force investment board, said during a conference call Feb. 22.

The class will begin with about 20 students. A general instruction course, airframe and propulsion courses ultimately will have about 20 students each for a total of 60.

"We're working to build a world-class training institute," Halsey said.

"We need a trained work force to attract large companies so the community doesn't have to commute down the hill," said Nick Parisi, dean of vocational education, at Victor Valley College. Aircraft maintenance training can serve as a springboard to other aviation careers, he said.

The consortium needs about $500,000 to purchase aircraft engines for students to rebuild, for cockpit simulators and other equipment, instructor John Hardell said during the call. Hardell is plant manager of General Electric at the logistics airport. The company tested its new GE-NEX engine on a 747 at the airport Feb. 22.

First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt will seek additional San Bernardino County training funds, he said during the conference call.

Federal Express donated a Boeing 727 for the program and Victor Valley Community College donated a smaller plane. The airport will provide classroom space. The consortium will need to build a hangar at the airport for aircraft maintenance instruction, said Jim Worsham, airport business development and marketing director.

The airport is located at the former George Air Force Base. The base closed in 1992, ending some 8,000 jobs. The logistics airport has since struggled to re-invent those jobs by attracting some 17 aerospace companies and 2,500 to 3,000 employees. They include General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Victorville Aerospace and others. Several companies have representatives on the consortium's board.

Victorville Aerospace turned away three big projects from airlines and aircraft leasing companies due to the lack of necessary mechanics, Worsham said. The companies "wanted maintenance repair overhaul and they {Victorville Aerospace} did not have the work force," he said.

The Victorville company needs about 160 mechanics to handle current work, Worsham said.

The consortium plans to recruit high school students. College officials will visit the schools to recruit seniors and encourage high school juniors to focus on physics, math, science and reading in preparation for mechanics training.

Worsham spearheads the consortium, which started in 2005 as an alliance of airport aerospace companies and four community colleges.

"We've been working with Jim Worsham the last one-and-a-half years to make the training center come to fruition," Halsey said.

Victor Valley College expects FAA and college system approval by fall, Parisi said.

Workers currently employed by logistics airport aeospace companies can take certification courses Wednesday and Thursday evenings, Worsham said.

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