It may be one of the best kept secrets among many in the Tucson region, but aviation-related employers know and rely on the Pima Community College Aviation Technology Program to graduate employment-ready individuals who can step into their businesses and immediately begin hands-on tasks.
Tom Hinman, aviation technology program manager at PCC, said the vast majority of the students who graduate from the program end up working in the aviation field.
“We view ourselves as an economic engine for the community,” Hinman said. “Our program supports the existing aviation businesses here by providing them with entry and mid-level skilled employees who are ready to work.”
The PCC program offers four major program fields of study — structural repair, airframe and power plant, avionics and ground school for professional flight training.
It offers both certificates and associate degree training in each area of study.
“All of our programs can lead to an associate’s degree, but most of the students come to us for certification in specialized training,” said Pete Stogsdill, aviation technology program chair. “Many of them continue their studies beyond a specialized field so they get the certification for the ability to sign off on and return an aircraft to service.”
Hinman said the PCC program has dual customers — both the students who enroll in its courses and the industry locally that hire the students upon completion of their training.
“We actually go out and work with the business community to determine what they need in terms of employees and skills, and then tailor our programs to meet their needs,” Hinman said. “It is those needs analyses that create our degree program.”
The aviation training program gives its students real-life working experience while they are learning, Hinman added.
“Students become imbedded in a work-like environment that mimics the work place,” he said. “Students work on airplanes like those used by businesses, using tooling exactly like theirs and paperwork just like that of business customers.”
Hinman said the PCC program is the only one he’s aware of in the country that uses aircraft for instruction ranging from small through mid-size to large commercial jets. The aviation technology program has two Boeing 727 jets, a DeHaviland Dash-8 mid-range commuter aircraft, an Aztec twin engine general aviation aircraft that can carry eight people and Cessna 150 and 152 aircraft that students work and learn on. The program will add a Cessna 170 shortly.
“Most of the airframe and power plant programs in the country will have only one or two airplanes in the Cessna category to train their students,” he said. “What makes us different is that we start with those smaller airplanes, move on to the mid-sized aircraft and then to the capstone of commercial aircraft.”
That work environment means that PCC aviation technology students are heavily recruited by companies both inside and outside of the Tucson region because their education so closely meets the business’s requirements, Hinman said.
Hinman said the PCC program it different than traditional post-secondary modularized institutions where classes are offered in day, evening and weekend settings and where 12 credits are considered full time.
“Our hangar environment mimics in great detail the work environment of the local aviation industry,” Hinman said. “Students come here between 7 a.m. and 7:15 a.m., depending on the class, punch a time clock, which instills a skill set that every employer wants — an employee who shows up on time — and stay for nearly eight hours.”
Typically, students spend four hours on class work daily, for instance on subjects such as hydraulics or structural repair, then work the remainder of the time on an aircraft in the hangar. Classes are five days a week, year-round in an 11,000-square foot hanger and classroom complex at Tucson International Airport on South Park Avenue off Old Nogales Highway.
“A typical student here will get 24 credits in the same time frame as a 12-credit student elsewhere,” Hinman said. “Each student works hard because we have a high standard of performance here. For example, our Airframe and Power Plant program has 43 different subject areas in it, including avionics and structural repair, which are highly-sought-after specializations in the industry.”
Most of the students in the PCC program take up the avionics and the airframe certifications, Hinman noted.
“By far, the majority of our students are in some program that involves licensure, either the airframe and power plant generalist or specialists in other areas,” he said.
Aviation technology enrollment for the current year is 116, up from 110 last year, 97 in 2009-2010 and 89 in 2008-2009.
Graduates not only form a steady source of employees for local aviation businesses, they also are a boon to the Tucson regional economy, Hinman added.
“They give those aviation companies reason to expand here in Tucson because there is a ready workforce available to them,” Hinman said. “Also our trained workforce serves to help attract other aviation companies to locate here.”