HAGERSTOWN — The Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics has been approved for a grant to help establish an aviation maintenance technology school at Hagerstown Regional Airport and is on track to open the school in the spring, PIA Director James Mader said.
The grant award, $272,975 from the Appalachian Regional Commission, will help with startup expenses for the school, which include a building, equipment and other supplies, Mader said.
Washington County listed the aircraft school as its top funding request from the ARC in May.
PIA officials learned this week that the request had been granted, Mader said.
"Aviation training equipment is so expensive that we've been putting off purchasing the remainder of it until we heard" about the grant, he said. "That's a real godsend for us."
The school will be in the Top Flight Airpark at Hagerstown Regional Airport and will train students to receive Federal Aviation Administration certification as airframe and powerplant technicians.
Airport and county economic development officials had been working to attract a school to the airport before working out a deal with PIA, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.
"Our intent is to build a skilled workforce that will support the burgeoning aeronautics industry in and around our local airport," he said.
Companies at the airport include Sierra Nevada Corp. and AgustaWestland North America Inc.
PIA's goal is to begin training at the Hagerstown campus April 29, pending approval from the Maryland Higher Education Commission, FAA and the Accrediting Commission for Career Schools and Colleges, according to the PIA website.
The school is accepting applications, but cannot officially enroll students until the licensing process is complete, Mader said.
"We have about a half a dozen people so far who are going to enroll, once we can legally do that," he said.
The first class has openings for 25 students, he said.
Mader said construction of the school is nearing completion.
"All the major items are taken care of," he said. "Right now, we're doing interior painting and carpeting."
The building includes two classrooms, four offices and a large, open shop area, he said.
In a news release announcing the grant, U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., spoke of the importance of the school to Western Maryland's economy.
"The launch of the Aviation Maintenance Technology School means jobs, jobs, jobs right here in Western Maryland — jobs that are in demand today and jobs that will now be filled by local workers," Mikulski said in the release.
"Hagerstown Regional Airport is an important economic hub and federal investments like this help keep Maryland's workforce competitive even during tough economic times," Cardin said in the release.
The ARC is a federal-state partnership that works with the people of Appalachia to create opportunities for self-sustaining economic development and improved quality of life.
The news release said "local sources will provide a dollar-for-dollar match," but Murray and Mader said that local match will be paid by PIA.
Mader estimated the total startup costs for the school at about $1 million.