More than 150 turn out for Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics open house

February 12, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Greg Null, left, director of Student Services for Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA) talks with Kevin Zeger of Chambersburg, Pa., Saturday during an open house for PIA's new Hagerstown campus in Top Flight Air Park near Hagerstown Regional Airport.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

There is a magic to flight, just as there is in any form of motion. It carries people not just from here to there, but across memory and time.

For Gregory Schwab, airplanes take him back to his childhood and a toy that left a lasting impression.

"It was a Fisher-Price plane that I pulled behind me everywhere I went," he said.  "My mom has photos of me — and the look on my face?  I was ecstatic."

Maybe that's why it's no surprise to family and friends that Schwab is looking forward to a career in the aviation technology industry.

He's planning on attending the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics.

"I've always been good with my hands," the 29-year-old Hagerstown resident said.  "I have previous maintenance experience, and I like planes.  It's a perfect fit."

Schwab was among more than 150 people who attended an open house on Saturday at the school's new Hagerstown campus in Top Flight Air Park near Hagerstown Regional Airport.

"It's basically an opportunity for people to learn more about us," said Steven Sabold, supervisor of admissions and recruitment.

"The community seems very eager to hear about our program and how it will work," he said.  "Today, they'll have an opportunity to meet our staff and have their questions answered."

Sabold said the PIA will accept 25 students in its first class and has received more than 25 applicants.

Additional classes will begin every four months.

"We've had quite a mix of applicants," he said.  "We've had individuals who are seniors in high school, as well as people who recently have been laid off and are looking for a new career.  It's been 50-50 traditional vs. nontraditional."

The school, which is scheduled to open April 29, will offer a 16-month aviation-maintenance-technician diploma program.

Sabold said students will spend half of their time in the classroom and the other half in labs.

Upon graduation, they will be qualified to take FAA exams to become certified airframe and powerplant technicians.

The PIA is leasing space at the air park and has renovated the building to include classrooms, offices and an open shop area.

"One week ago, this place was an empty shell," Sabold said.  "We've been busy bringing equipment in and getting ready for our April start."

Sabold said the training PIA graduates receive will prepare them for work in the aviation business around the world.

That's what appeals to Seth Younker, 21, of Hagerstown.

"I don't mind going outside of this area to find a job," he said.  "In fact, I'd like to see the world and work in airports in different countries."

Younker said he attended the University of Maryland for two semesters but didn't care for that type of educational setting.

"I want to be able to train, then apply what I've learned to a career," he said.

"I've always been good with my hands.  I'm good at repairing things and have always been a fixer," he said.  "I think this would be a great job."

If Younker does pursue a career in the aviation field, he would be following in the footsteps of his mother, Tina Younker.

"I worked at Fairchild, in this very same building," she said.  "Being here today brings back a lot of memories.  I built parts for A10s and also did inspections at the main plant.  To see a plane assembled, it was really exciting.  I think this could be a great career choice for my son."

Gregory Schwab said he attended the aeronautics institute at its main campus in Pittsburgh in 2009 but had to quit when finances got tight.

He came to Hagerstown and landed a job with the Sierra Nevada Corp. based at the airport, but was laid off recently.

"I'd kept in touch with PIA after returning to Hagerstown," Schwab said.  "So I knew they were thinking of opening a campus here.  This is a second chance.  That's why I'm here today — to find out about financial aid and transferring courses."

As for that Fisher-Price airplane, Schwab said he no longer has the original.  But he recently found one just like it on Ebay.

"I bought it," he said.  "Planes, trains, automobiles.  It's a guy thing."

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