Feburary 10, 2012

A new training facility for aviation mechanics and aviation technicians is rising at a technical college in Savannah, GA, just as employers are beginning to find properly-trained workers scarce.

“Gulfstream relies on a highly trained work force,” said Jeff Miller, vice president for communications, Gulfstream. “We’ve added 800 jobs locally in the last year in engineering, production, product support and other technical areas.” He added that the company is particularly in need of aviation mechanics, avionics technicians and engineers in specialized areas.

The new Aviation Training Facility at the Crossroad Campus of the Savannah Technical College (STC) is the result of a partnership between Gulfstream in Savannah and the college that started in 2006. When finished next year, the new facility will add between 50 and 75 new A&Ps and avionics technicians yearly to the skilled labor pool. Industry observers say that’s just in time.

“According to the Georgia Department of Labor, aviation technician and mechanic positions will expand exponentially through 2013, almost tripling in demand annually,” said STC spokeswoman Amy Shaffer. Another forecast, by Boeing Aircraft, shows a need for some 650,000 A&Ps worldwide through 2030, now just 18 years away. Of those 650,000, about 32,000 would be needed for business aviation interests.

But for now, as general aviation (GA) climbs unsteadily out of the recession, aviation businesses starting to rehire say qualified A&Ps and technicians aren’t always easy to find. Industry experts say that difficulty marks the beginning of a long-predicted shortage, exacerbated by the events of the recession and by too few new A&Ps and avionics technicians entering the market.

“Fallout from the recession and coming retirements will cause most of the shortage,” said Dale Forton, president of the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association, in Ionia, Michigan. “In Wichita and across the country thousands of skilled workers lost their jobs in GA businesses. Many of those won’t be coming back, because the workers found employment in other areas where similar skills are needed, retrained for different careers or left for more lucrative technical jobs outside the U.S.” In addition, he said, data from an NBAA Maintenance Committee study showed that 80 percent of all A&Ps in the U.S. are now between 40 and 65 years old, meaning a high rate of retirements over the next 20 or 25 years.

“So the net result is that there won’t be enough qualified A&Ps or avionics technicians to meet the demand as the economy recovers,” he said. “That’s why Gulfstream’s partnership with Savannah Technical College is so valuable.”

The new facility at STC will offer graduates of the Aircraft Structural Technology program a diploma, but will also offer certificate programs for Aircraft Assembly Technician and Luxury Craft Cabinetmaking. It is being constructed to meet FAR Part 147 requirements for aviation mechanic schools, and will have a 29,152 square-foot dedicated building, including a 5,000 square-foot hangar with four training labs, six classrooms and a special area set aside for electronics and avionics training. One of the four new labs will be dedicated to composite materials, a skill requirement unknown when most of today’s working A&P mechanics were trained.

“This Aviation Training Center is an answer to the call of our area industry partners to provide skilled workers to meet the highly specialized needs of the aerospace industry,” said Dr. Kathy Love, president of Savannah Technical College. “This partnership [with Gulfstream] ensures our workforce has the skills and talents necessary to make our region and our state more competitive.”

Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah has other programs to help it and other industry employers ensure a continuing pool of entry-level skilled workers. It is working with Georgia Quick Start, which delivers leadership training in classrooms, mobile labs or on plant floors. The company has also arranged for extra tuition reimbursement for engineers taking master’s degree programs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.