LR Airport has $100,000 on Hold; Money Would Fund Aviation Training, but Federal OK Needed

April 19, 2007
Little Rock National Airport has the $100,000, but officials are reluctant to spend the money

Little Rock National Airport, Adams Field, has the $100,000 airport officials say they need to seed an effort to develop aviation-related skills training programs, but officials are reluctant to spend the money until they determine if it's legal to do so.

In recent months, the state's largest airport has taken the lead in a concerted push to develop and coordinate aviation industry training programs in area secondary and post-secondary schools to help sate the appetite for people with aviation-related skills in central Arkansas. Aviation-related exports from Arkansas totaled more than $1 billion in 2006, making the industry the state's largest exporter. Arkansas ranks 11th among the 50 states in aerospace exports.

The region already has thousands employed in aviation-related work, but some jobs are being filled by contract workers in other states. Many fear that without more training available, companies will take the highpaying jobs elsewhere.

A Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission task force has recommended ramping up training for jobs that can be filled now.

"The demand is not being met by the work force," said Bob East, who headed the commission's Workforce Development Task Force. "They are either going to do [the work] here or ... expand facilities in other states." In the short term, the recommendations include: Promoting existing aircraft manufacturing technology classes this spring and fall at Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock.

Funding a summer aircraft manufacturing class at Pulaski Technical College for high school students.

Opening two five-week classes in design engineering at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The classes would focus on special software unique to aircraft and automobile design. Students who complete the course would be eligible for employment or internships at Falcon Jet or Hawker Beechcraft, two Little Rock aviation companies.

Funding the Central Arkansas Aviation Academy, a summer program for high school students under a partnership with the Little Rock School District, Pulaski Technical College, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Arkansas Aerospace Education Center and others.

Bob East, an airport commissioner who served as chairman of the Workforce Development Task Force, wants the airport to contribute $50,000, or half of the estimated cost of the training and classes. East said he believes he can raise the other $50,000, but wants the airport to guarantee the entire $100,000 on the front end to jump-start the training programs until the rest of the money is raised.

For the long term, East said state or federal money likely will help fund the training, but that money isn't immediately available.

The $100,000 will fund training for 54 students and qualify them for jobs with starting annual salaries ranging from $27,000 to $42,000, East said.

Federal rules and regulations governing the use of airport money might preclude its availability to finance the training, said Meredith Catlett, commission counsel. If airport money is used for anything but airport operations or development, it is considered revenue diversion and the airport could face a range of sanctions, she said.

The commission voted Tuesday to appropriate the money with the caveat that it only be spent after receiving approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"This is a hugely important endeavor," said Larry Lichty, commission chairman.

This article was published 04/18/2007

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