PCC Aviation Technology Center Ready to Soar

Filling a Talent Gap

By Loni Nannini

The Pima Community College Aviation Technology Center is nearly ready to soar with a $15-million expansion slated for completion this spring. 

The project, located on 12 acres at the Tucson International Airport, will double the size of the facility to 80,000 square feet of cutting-edge hangar, lab, classroom and administrative spaces. The $15 million expansion is thanks to a budget allocation by Gov. Doug Ducey and support by the legislature.

“Our fast-growing aviation and aerospace industries need highly trained workers and we’re pleased to partner with legislative and business leaders to expand our programs,” said PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert. “Training workers for 21st century jobs is critical if we want to continue to expand and diversify our economy in Southern Arizona.” 

The new aviation facility marks the completion of Phase 2 of the four-phase Pima Community College Center for Excellence in Applied Technology comprised of the 45,000-square-foot Auto Technology facility, a 60,000-square-foot Science and Technology Building, and the 100,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Building currently under construction at the Downtown Campus.

“Phase Two of the Center for Excellence in Applied Technology includes a critical expansion of the Aviation Technology Center that will help us to meet the demand of local employers,” said Greg Wilson, Dean of Applied Technology at PCC. “As we have seen with the opening of the Automotive Technology facility, we are also starting to attract students from out of state, which will help increase our enrollment and serve even more employers. Our job, and the job of the community, will be to keep those students here.”

The PCC Aviation Technology Center seeks to help fill a nationwide manpower gap in the growing aviation technology industry. This field addresses maintenance and repair of aircraft equipment, systems used in aircraft operations and other aspects of aviation, and encompasses training and the use of drones. 

Degree offerings at the Center include an Associate of Applied Science in Aviation Technology and a variety of certifications including Aircraft General Mechanics, Aircraft Airframe Mechanics, and Aircraft Powerplant Mechanics. Other certificates include Avionics and Structural Repair.

The aviation technology sector is expected to grow 11% annually over the next decade and is estimated to reach a valuation of $471.8 billion globally in 2021.

“Aviation in Southern Arizona is a huge industry, and we are severely lacking maintenance technicians. The manpower shortage is really a nationwide issue, and we are trying to do our part to equip our industry partners with the manpower they need,” said Jason Bowersock, Academic Director of Aviation Technology at PCC. “With Southern Arizona’s focus on defense and aerospace, expansion of scalability to train and produce a skilled workforce is critical,” 

Bowersock says the PCC Aviation Technology Center is distinguished by the state-of-the-art facility and amenities it offers students at its Tucson International Airport location. 

“Even prior to the expansion, our training facilities for students − which include the hangar, lab space and equipment − were far above average,” said Bowersock. “You find some programs certified to conduct the same training out of abandoned strip malls and car dealerships, and our students can look out our back door and see aircrafts flying in and out and get a true perspective about what they will be doing in the future.”

That perspective is honed by hands-on experience in the hangars that prepares students for jobs in both general and commercial aviation.  

“We have 18 aircrafts of various makes, models and manufacturers and four transport category aircraft − 727s and turboprop aircraft − designed to transport people,” said Bowersock. “Our students do a good portion of their training on those particular aircrafts, so when they leave our program they have commercial experience. The majority of students are seeking employment in commercial aviation since it has the highest ceiling.”

PCC programs funnel employees into the local job market for companies like Bombardier, Ascent Aerospace, Aerovation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Skywest Airlines. It’s also a resource for national and international companies such as United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Alaskan Airlines. 

The Center is a valuable asset to both the aviation industry and the entire Southern Arizona economy, according to Dave Querio, president and CEO of Ascent Aerospace, which provides full-service aircraft maintenance, modification, storage and reclamation.

“This expansion is obviously important to us and the community in that it will create a more highly technical workforce to support the aviation industry and expand our training capabilities to encompass drones, non-destructive testing (NDT) and other technologies,” said Querio, who is also chairman of the advisory board for the Aviation Technology Center.

As one of numerous industry partners, Ascent assists the center in tailoring the curriculum to industry needs, providing guidance with emerging industry trends, and collaborating with students as prospective employees. 

“We do everything we can to encourage workforce development and retention,” Querio said. “The aviation and aerospace industry is very robust in Southern Arizona and it is important to keep these potentially high-paying jobs here. It is not only great for the industry, but for the Southern Arizona economy. It helps keep the economic motor running in Arizona.”

Creation of a future-ready workforce will be further enhanced by a $490,000 Aviation Maintenance Technical Workers Workforce Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration. 

PCC’s Aviation Technology Center was one of only 15 programs nationwide to receive a grant. The award will fund curriculum development and equipment required to administer an NDT Program that will train students to inspect and validate the integrity of critical aircraft structures and components. The program is slated to begin in Fall 2023. 

In addition, a $450,000 grant from the Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation will fund development of a drone program that will have applications for large construction projects, agriculture, law enforcement, entertainment, the military and other aspects of aviation.

“The use of drones across various industries is widespread and continually growing,” said Bowersock. “We are developing a curriculum to train students to operate and maintain unmanned aircraft systems and are creating certifications in specific areas such as agriculture, survey and mapping.”

The various programs and classes at the Center are designed to appeal to a range of ages and life stages, from high schoolers involved in the Pima Joint Technical Education District (JTED) Program and post-secondary students to adult learners who require the convenience and flexibility of night classes. Veterans are also highly sought by employers, according to Bowersock. 

“When they finish training, students with zero experience in the aviation industry outside of the training we have provided them can immediately find employment making a decent wage, and some have job offers six months before completion of training,” Bowersock said.

Ultimately, the future of the Aviation Technology Center is bright, with job prospects for students soaring.

“We want Tucson and Pima County to be a hub to attract additional business to this area and we can only do that if we have a skilled workforce,” Bowersock said. “Companies considering Tucson to grow their businesses look at our facility and want to know that we have the talent pool and resources available to support them. We are an integral part of the economic development process.”

Pictured above from left – Greg Wilson, Dean of Applied Technology at PCC; Demion Clinco, Former Chair,Current Vice-Chair, PCC Governing Board; Libby Howell, Executive Director, Media, Communication & Government Relations; Lee D. Lambert, Chancelor, Pima Community College; Dr. Ian Roark, Vice President, Workforce Development;  Jason Bowersock, Academic Director of Aviation Technology at PCC
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