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Seth Hansen is soaring in role with Hillsboro Aero Academy
Photos and Story by James Hill
Seth Hansen’s high-flying career as director of maintenance for Hillsboro Aero Academy (formerly known as Hillsboro Aviation) really took off when he enrolled in Portland Community College years ago. Now that relationship just keeps paying off for the Hillsboro resident and his company based at the Hillsboro Airport.
Hansen, whose grandfather was a pilot, came to Oregon from Utah when his father was relocated by Intel Corp. in 2001. Years later he started as a student at Hillsboro Aviation training to become a commercial airline pilot. Part way through training, the 18-year-old figured he might as well get a mechanical license and signed up for classes at the Aviation Maintenance Technology Program based at the Rock Creek Campus, 17705 N.W. Springville Road.
After earning his flight instructor and general airframe certifications, he was offered a part-time job on the shop floor as a maintenance apprentice and partial mechanic at Hillsboro Aviation. From 7 a.m. to noon, Hansen studied at PCC’s hangar shop at Rock Creek and in the afternoons he worked at the company.
“It was a cool experience for me, and I gained a lot of confidence and experience in a short amount of time,” Hansen said. “The location and the value are there. There are other private schools you can go to that are bigger, but they are more expensive. I think the value of what you get at PCC is great. You end up with a good certificate and a foundation of knowledge that prepares you to become a mechanic.”
Hansen nearly didn’t stick with aviation maintenance. Soon after earning his degree and power plant certification in 2009 from PCC, he left his job to be a diesel mechanic for a company that made snow tractors and remote access utility vehicles used at ski resorts and on rural roads. Part of that work included him spending time at the Arctic Circle to fix heavy equipment for the National Science Foundation. But being on the road so much (seven months of the year and weeks at a time) he returned to Hillsboro Aviation as a floor mechanic.
It was a good move. After four months, Hansen was promoted to shop lead and then months later he was supervising the operations. Not long after that, he was named director of maintenance for the company, overseeing the care of 90 aircraft at campuses based in Hillsboro, Troutdale and Prineville. Today, following the spin-off of Hillsboro Aero Academy from Hillsboro Aviation, Hansen oversees 75 aircraft and 30 employees at those locations.
About 60 percent of his employees are PCC alumni, including his Hillsboro lead mechanic and chief inspector, to name a few. As a hiring manager for a business within the aviation industry, Hansen has a strong partnership with the college’s Aviation Maintenance Technology Program. Sitting on the program’s industry advisory committee, Hansen and colleagues help guide the program on curriculum, practices and tools. He said for Hillsboro Aero Academy, he’s looking for mechanics with the broad knowledge base that PCC provides.
“At our shop, you’re going to do a little bit of sheet metal, a little bit of electrical, some piston engine stuff, hydraulics and more,” Hansen said. “What I like about Hillsboro Aero Academy is the diversity of what we work on. The experience I gained working out on the shop floor here I really do feel can transition you into many different facets of the industry. PCC gives you a really well-rounded foundation too and when you get into the industry you can start to specialize rather than starting out specializing.
“It’s good to get feedback from the industry,” he added. “Anywhere we can give feedback, whatever relationship we can build with the college, is good since we do hire so many graduates.”
Ever since the economy turned around, Hansen has seen a higher demand for aircraft mechanics and said they’ll continue to see an increase in demand for good trades people. The demand centers on desired technical expertise to work on such aircraft as the company’s Robinson-22 and 44 helicopters, which after 2,200 flight hours have to be totally dismantled, tested and rebuilt due to the stress they sustain in flight.
Watch a R-22 helicopter take off during the program’s Career Day last fall.“Helicopters are more unforgiving on mistakes,” Hansen warned. “If a component fails on a fixed wing aircraft, it doesn’t cause the catastrophic problems it may cause on a helicopter.”
In addition, mechanics must maintain the airworthiness of fixed wing aircraft like Cessna trainers, various retractable gear aircraft, Piper Seminoles and a C90 King Air, which is a twin turboprop, pressurized, high performance aircraft. As a result, the group of mechanics will do, on average, 700 annual inspections, 30-40 engine changes and 10 helicopter overhauls every year. To keep up with work, Hansen needs qualified shop personnel to handle the load.
“I don’t think there is a big enough supply to match the future demand,” Hansen said of the skilled worker pool for hiring companies. “Going to PCC and getting some sort of trades degree; you are really setting yourself up for a good career.”
For more details on the Aviation Maintenance Technology Program, call (971) 722-7256.