EVERETT — John Gower earned a six-month certificate in advanced avionics this spring, just the vote of confidence he needed to pursue Everett Community College’s two-year Aviation Maintenance Technician program.
When it came time to apply, however, his schedule didn’t mesh. Classes at the Aviation Maintenance Technician School run from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Gower, a general aviation pilot from Renton, plans to teach would-be flyers during the day.
Then he got good news this summer: Evening classes will begin this fall, thanks to $440,000 the aviation technician school received from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
For nearly a decade, EvCC’s Aviation Maintenance Technician School has been trying to add a second shift, said Rob Prosch, the associate dean of aviation. Eligibility for the funds required the school to double its enrollment. Adding an evening track was the obvious answer.
“This opens up seats for our daytime and evening program,” Prosch said.
The aviation technician training is one of more than 18 programs at EvCC that are new or have expanded in the past 10 years, EvCC spokeswoman Katherine Schiffner said.
Since 2008, the college, which now serves more than 19,000 students, has invested $150 million in new construction, translating into more room and more educational choices. Mechatronics, advanced avionics, cybersecurity and hospitality are among the college’s new programs. Next to expand: EvCC’s nursing program with the receipt of a $150,000 grant to enlarge its nursing simulation lab.
Adding a second shift to the Federal Aviation Administration-approved technician school opens doors for working students and students with families, Prosch said. The program prepares students to take the FAA mechanic’s license, which is required to work on aircraft.
With most in their mid-20s, the majority of students work, Prosch said. About 2.3 percent are women. The aim is increase the percentage to 15 percent, Prosch said. The school is applying for a National Science Foundation grant that would help reach that goal.
The addition of a second shift is a step toward meeting the soaring demand for aircraft mechanics.
Over the next 20 years, the aviation industry will need 189,00 aircraft mechanics in North America and another 565,000 worldwide, according to the 2018 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook.
Filling regional vacancies is critical, especially if Washington wants to maintain the claim that it’s the most competitive state in the United States for aerospace manufacturing, according to a Teal Group report released this spring. State government and industry leaders hope the report will help convince Boeing to build its proposed mid-market plane, dubbed the 797, in Washington.
Founded in 1967 in a former military commissary at Paine Field, the aviation technician school has about 100 people enrolled, equally divided between first- and second-year students. With a second shift, Prosch expects enrollment to reach 200 in the next few years.
Students spend nearly seven hours a day at the facility, which houses classrooms, repair bays and two hangars filled with mostly donated propeller planes, jets, jet engines and helicopters, and outside, a Boeing 727.
On a recent afternoon, Brian McGoorty, 26, was seated in the cockpit of a 1960-era Cessna 205 prepping for the FAA test he plans on taking after he graduates later this month.
Notebook in hand, McGoorty was reviewing the plane’s instrument panel for the navigation and communication portion of the test. (Fun fact: Students can’t just sit in an aircraft, they have to be able to taxi it from one point to another. No flying it, however.)
After working at a hardware store in North Dakota for a several years, McGoorty realized his paycheck wasn’t where he wanted it to be. “I decided I had to do something different,” he said. “This is something I like.”
His story is similar to other students and even the school’s instructors, Prosch said. “They realize they’re barely making ends meet, and they want to do something more challenging.”
In the mid-1980s, Dale Lerback was loading baggage at San Francisco International Airport when he asked a jet mechanic what he earned for walking around a plane after it landed. He got his answer. “I was making $6.10 an hour and he was making $28 an hour. That’s when I realized I could make a lot more,” said Lerback, now a tenured instructor at the aviation technician school.
Among the program’s prerequisites: algebra-level math and English proficiency, Prosch said.
The median salary, half make more and half make less, for an aviation maintenance technician in the region is $74,000. But it’s not unknown for mechanics to earn $100,000 or more, Prosch said.
Sam Rochon, 21, had worked retail since age 16, but wanted to do something “more interesting.” The Stanwood resident graduates this month. If all goes as planned, he’ll begin working at Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group.
In fact, Rochon hopes to be working at the new Paine Field Commercial Airport Terminal, just across the street from the Aviation Technician School. Commercial air service is expected to begin later this year or in 2019, pending FAA approval.
Last year, the school added a two-quarter advanced avionics program, which deals with “everything on an airplane that has to do with electronics or wiring from the cockpit to the reading lamp over your head,” Prosch said. Students learn to repair and troubleshoot and maintain an aircraft’s electronic systems, another in-demand specialty.
This fall, the Aviation Maintenance Technician School will begin holding classes from 3 to 9:30 p.m. on top of its daytime schedule, a move that’s also eliminated the school’s wait list. “We still have some open spots,” Prosch said.
Gower, whose day job would have kept him out of class, is thrilled. Without the evening option, “I would have probably put off attending school.”
Janice Podsada: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods