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Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics to open school at airport

May 11, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics plans to open a school at Hagerstown Regional Airport early next year to train a local workforce for aviation maintenance technician jobs, PIA director James Mader said Tuesday.

The program is expected to start in January or early February and will enroll 25 students in its initial class, Mader said. Additional groups of 25 to 50 students can begin training every four months, he said.

Airport and economic development officials had been seeking such an arrangement for years to feed the demand for Federal Aviation Administration-certified Airframe and Powerplant Technicians at companies including Sierra Nevada Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and AgustaWestland North America Inc., airport business development manager Greg Larsen said.

In December, PIA was among five aeronautical educational institutions to tour the airport and one of at least three to express an interest in establishing an aircraft maintenance technician program there, Larsen said.

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Based on its proximity, good reputation and extensive experience in developing new aviation maintenance training programs, PIA was considered "the best opportunity for a successful endeavor," according to a project summary distributed Tuesday to the Washington County Commissioners.

PIA is wrapping up regulatory approval processes with the Maryland Higher Education Commission and FAA, Mader said in a telephone interview Tuesday. Officials also are finalizing a lease for space at Top Flight Air Park, which they hope to wrap up this week, he said.

Each student enrolled in the program will take 16 continuous months of full-time training, with about half in the classroom and the other half in labs, Mader said. Upon graduation, students will be qualified to take FAA exams to become certified Airframe and Powerplant Technicians.

To be admitted to the program, applicants must have a high school diploma or GED and must demonstrate strong math skills on an entrance exam, Mader said. Officials expect to begin accepting applications in the fall, he said.

"We're pretty excited about this program and we certainly do believe it will help to bring employment to people in the area there," Mader said. "There seem to be a number of aviation companies that are looking for trained aviation techs and are having difficulty finding them."

Larsen said the companies, which equip and repair aircraft for military and commercial contracts, continue to experience a "clear-cut" demand for technicians, despite news in March that one of them, Northrop Grumman, was notifying its workforce of potential layoffs.

"I can imagine all graduates from this program potentially having the opportunity to work here at the airport," Larsen said.

Having an on-site technician training program also will provide a strong incentive for additional aerospace companies to open branches at the airport, Mader said.

The Washington County Commissioners agreed with Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission members Tuesday that a grant to help PIA with its start-up costs should be the county's top-priority funding request for Area Development Project funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The ARC is a federal-state-local partnership to improve the economy and quality of life throughout the Appalachian region.

PIA is requesting $275,000 from ARC and will spend about $300,000 of its own money on start-up costs, including training equipment, computer and software purchases and building renovations, according to a project description form.

Mader said without that funding from the ARC, the institute might not be able to meet its goal of starting the program in January.

The Tri-County Council for Western Maryland expects to distribute a total of about $1.3 million in Area Development Project grants from the ARC between Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties, EDC director Timothy R. Troxell told the commissioners.

The commissioners agreed that their second-priority request for those funds should be $73,000 for Hagerstown Community College to purchase equipment and materials for a new program to prepare students for careers in high-tech instrumentation and control technology. This type of specialist is needed for jobs such as running oxygen generators and specialized electrical systems in hospitals or analyzing chemical composition in biotechnology labs, according to a project description form.

The county's third-priority funding request was $3,000 for bike lanes and directional signs in Williamsport to attract C&O Canal users into town. Its fourth- and fifth-priority requests were for $500,000 each for a pump station upgrade project in Williamsport, and a wastewater collection and inflow and infiltration project in Hagerstown.

The county was still working to identify a good transportation-related project to submit as a candidate for a separate grant also distributed through the ARC.

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