Colonie

HVCC, Albany Airport setting up aircraft mechanic training school

JOHN CROPLEY/THE DAILY GAZETTEAlbany County Airport Authority CEO Philip Calderone speaks to a reporter on Thursday in the hangar that will house a new aviation maintenance technician school.
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JOHN CROPLEY/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Albany County Airport Authority CEO Philip Calderone speaks to a reporter on Thursday in the hangar that will house a new aviation maintenance technician school.

COLONIE — A new classroom and workshop in an airplane hangar will prepare students for careers in aircraft repair and, it is hoped, make a dent in the growing industrywide shortage of mechanics.

Hudson Valley Community College and the Albany County Airport Authority on Thursday announced a collaborative effort to launch the Aeronautical Training Institute.

The new program will be designed to train 40 to 50 students at a time in both airframe and powerplant maintenance. The 1,900-hour program is intended to lead to federal certification for graduates; it can be credit or non-credit or a combination of both.

Instruction is targeted to begin in September 2022, and organizers will be attempting to recruit women, minorities and other groups traditionally under-represented in the field.

The jobs pay well: Median salary for aviation mechanics and technicians is $54,000 a year in the Capital Region.

Airport Authority CEO Philip Calderone and HVCC President Roger Ramsammy said at a news conference that their collaboration was a combination of an unmet need — the aircraft maintenance workforce is aging and retiring faster than replacements are being trained and hired — and an unexpected opportunity: The Plattsburgh-area BOCES program was discontinuing its technician school and placing the equipment and curriculum up for sale.

Setting up a program from scratch and gaining FAA certification can take five years and cost $7 million, Calderone said. Buying the existing certified program from Champlain Valley Educational Services Board of Cooperative Educational Services cost just $1.5 million and will be much quicker to set up, even with the conversion from a high school-level program to a college program.

Calderone said the program’s graduates will find a ready job market. The three mechanical repair operators at Albany International need mechanics, as do the much-larger repair operations at major airports such as LaGuardia, Logan or JFK airports.

“I want them [to work] here but I also want to create career opportunities for kids in the region,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be graduating 40 to 50 students a year. Many of those kids will be employed here with our three MROs but others will find opportunities at other airports.”

Jonathan Ashdown, HVCC’s dean of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said the program will be open to students across the Capital Region and beyond.

It’s the latest of HVCC’s collaborations designed to train students for specific industry needs, said Penny Hill, the college’s dean of workforce development and economic initiatives. Another recent example has been the wind turbine tower fabrication plant planned to be built in the Port of Albany — HVCC is now developing programs to train people for jobs there.

“It’s not sexy or glamorous but it happens to be a good-paying job that gives people a lifestyle,” she said of aircraft maintenance.

Along with the hard skills needed to fix an airplane, some students will need to learn the soft skills needed to hold a job, Hill said.

“That’s a huge issue,” she said. “One of the things that’s part of my job is developing pipelines for people to come into the programs. They’re not ready for a full degree; they might not be ready for that intenseness. For manufacturing, I have a boot camp that goes two weeks.” 

Something like that might be needed with the aviation program as well, she added.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said completing the program potentially will be transformational for students.

“These are the type of programs that are going to make a difference in someone’s life in our underserved communities,” he said. “The market’s here. We just need the people.”

Rensselaer County Executive Steven McLaughlin said he needed (and got) this kind of break when he started out as a commercial pilot.

“I’ve hauled airplanes out of this hanger, I’ve flown out of here, and I probably landed on these runways 5 or 6,000 times. Twelve thousand hours, and it all began right here at Albany Airport when somebody gave me a chance,” he said.

As many as 15 students in the new program will receive scholarships of up to $10,000 from the HVCC foundation. The tuition assistance will be targeted to students who live in economic opportunity zones or are members of groups under-represented in STEM fields, military veterans, and under-employed or unemployed people.

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