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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Demand soars for educated aviation workforce

Northwest Campus Center of Excellence for Aviation, Transportation and Logistics

2301 Horizon Drive

Fort Worth 76177

817-515-7100

www.tccd.edu

More than a year after taking flight, a Fort Worth aviation training center continues to attract more students as employment needs accelerate and companies scramble to fill vacancies.

“There’s going to be a huge shortage in the next 10 to 15 years,” said Joe McCourt, director of aviation education at Tarrant County College, referring to aviation jobs.

When the school’s Northwest Campus Center of Excellence for Aviation, Transportation and Logistics opened in August 2014, it attracted students interested in filling future pilot openings, as well as opportunities in aircraft mechanics and logistics, which manages and track goods in and out of state.

The center, at 2301 Horizon Dr. at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, allows the college district’s aviation program to train more students than at its previous locations. Prior years saw about 25 new students begin aviation studies in the spring and an equal number in fall the semester. The fall number doubled this year, rising to 50.

“We think we’re still not meeting a demand that’s even bigger than that,” said McCourt, pointing to workers in their 50s and 60s facing retirement and leaving an industry needing educated individuals to fill their positions.

For example, the Air Force Personnel Center at Oklahoma’s Tinker Air Force Base is seeking 1,000 civilian maintenance technicians. To help employers fill such needs, TCC sponsors biannual job fairs that unite prospective employees and employers. Many of those employers hope to fill pilot openings.

About 100 of the 400-plus students currently enrolled in the district’s aviation education program have a flight focus. The balance are primarily students studying aircraft maintenance.

Despite a need for aviation workers of all types, educating future pilots remains a daunting challenge for a district whose curriculum falls short of providing enough flight hours.

“The hard thing is we have a pilot program, but you cannot fly with a restricted ATP [airline transport pilot certificate] without a bachelor’s degree and 1,000 hours [of flight time],” McCourt said.

A restricted ATP denotes certificates with restricted privileges, such as flying aircraft with multi-engine ratings only, according to Federal Aviation Administration standards.

Most of the district’s students graduate with between 225 and 250 hours of flight time, requiring them to complete 750 more hours. Many of those students fill the gap by becoming flight instructors, McCourt said.

Despite the ability to educate more students at the current location (the district previously offered aviation training from its Northwest campus and Fort Worth Meacham Airport), demand just seems to accelerate.

“I think that a gap still exists in terms of companies being able to fill specific jobs in the industry,” said Tom Harris, president of Alliance Air-Aviation Services, Hillwood Properties in North Fort Worth, the developer of Fort Worth Alliance Airport.

For example, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Bell Helicopter struggle to find enough individuals prepared to fill manufacturing positions, Harris said.

“And getting licensed aircraft mechanics, I think, is still in great demand,” Harris said.

The employment need extends beyond Fort Worth and Tarrant County. For example, LeTourneau University in November signed agreements with the McKinney Independent School District and Collin County to expand aviation education. The university plans to begin offering flight training at McKinney National Airport in January. The agreements allow McKinney schools students to pursue dual-credit classes and a chance to earn an associate’s degree from Collin College and aviation credit hours.

Back in Fort Worth, Dunbar High School provides aviation training thanks to a joint effort from the Fort Worth Independent School District, Tarrant County College and Bell Helicopter. The high school offers aviation technology as part of the district’s Gold Seal Programs of Choice, designed for students seeking a non-traditional approach to the learning process. Students receive what the district calls a more intensive curriculum in math, science, communications, art and foreign language.

Aviation education benefits more than students. A locally trained workforce also makes the Fort Worth area more attractive to companies considering relocating to the area.

“When we talk to them about the capacity of the college [TCC], it is meaningful,” Harris said.

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