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Aviation Partners Fly in Formation

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by Susan Hereford

Brainstorming faculty, industry input and a new dean have charted a stellar course for the Aviation Maintenance Technology program at Rock Creek Campus.

"My goal as we move into the new hangar is to have new programs as well," said Jonathan Parker, hired last summer as the dean of Math, Manufacturing and Transportation. Parker spent most of his career working in industry, in the aviation training and maintenance areas, so linking up with others fits his style well.

The new hangar comes from money earmarked by the passage of a 1992 bond measure that yielded facilities improvements throughout the PCC district. An earlier decision to move the program to the Portland International airport was scrapped and instead the college will improve the existing Rock Creek aviation facility. The college has committed $1.3 million for the construction and another $1 million has been secured from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The construction will add approximately 17,000 square feet to the existing hangar.

The extra square footage will enable the program to add composite structural repair, a sheet metal shop and aviation electronics. The increased space will also allow advanced courses for technicians already working who need to upgrade skills.

And by fall term 1997, the two-year program plans to have a new piece of aviation training under its wing: In addition to maintenance training, students will also be able to acquire flight training through a partnership with Hillsboro Aviation, Inc.

"I think one of the weakest parts of a pilot’s training is under mechanical systems," said Max Lyons, general manager of Hillsboro Aviation. His company has an accredited flight training school with approximately 140 current students. "I’d like to give a basics class, mechanical foundations. Many don’t want to take a full-fledged mechanical program," explained Lyons of his interest in the PCC program.

In the proposed arrangement, Lyons could offer the flight students an associate’s degree through study in both the PCC and Hillsboro Aviation programs. PCC stands to increase enrollment in the program by adding students from the flight school and also with the introduction of flight training to curriculum.

Lyons and Parker have already set up internships for PCC students to get real-life experience at the aviation company.

One PCC aviation graduate, David Mathew, is now working at Hillsboro Aviation. Mathew earned his commercial pilot’s license at another educational institution and then completed aviation maintenance training at PCC. He supports the plan to add flight training to the PCC program. "From an economic standpoint, it’s an incredibly smart thing to do," he said, adding that it gives technicians a competitive edge.

Mathew explained that more and more, pilots flying corporate jets need to know how to maintain and repair their aircraft. Bush pilots also need the mechanical training. The same is true for missionary pilots, a personal goal Mathew one day hopes to accomplish. Foreign countries often require missionaries to have a skill or occupation in order to enter the country. The technician training is the ticket, he said.

Parker has other projects in the works to revitalize the aviation program. One is a link with a four-year university. "My long-term goal," Parker said, "is to develop an articulation agreement … so our students would have the option of earning a bachelor’s degree in airway science." He is currently in correspondence with several schools.

Stronger links with high school students are also on the planning board. The aviation program is slated to bring high school students to study on the campus as early as this winter. Several Washington County high schools have expressed an interest. In the plan, students would earn both high school and community college credit for the courses.

Enrollment in the aviation maintenance program has dipped the last several years, Parker explained, following industry downsizing, but "industry is beginning to recover and last summer we saw an 8 percent enrollment increase."

If the aviation industry continues to make gains and Parker and faculty implement their vision, the PCC program will soon be soaring.

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