Aviation Technology program flying high at Northeast State's Gray campus

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Northeast State Community College
NESCC Aviation Technology program director Richard Blevins demonstrates landing gear simulator

Students enrolled in the Aviation Technology program at Northeast State Community College will jump into a new laboratory space for training when fall classes begin next week.

The Northeast State campus at Gray, Tenn., houses the College’s Aviation Technology program. The expanded mechanical and airframe laboratory space moves the program toward a fast track to earning the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Part 147 airframe certification for aviation teaching schools. Richard Blevins, director of the Aviation Technology program, noted that the development of the Aerospace Park at Tri-Cities Airport fuels the need to secure the Part 147 certification.

“To move forward on the FAA certification, we need a fully operational aircraft in the lab,” said Blevins. “We want to ensure the Aerospace Park’s potential tenants that we can provide the highly skilled labor force aerospace and aviation industry demands.”

The mechanical and airframe lab provides approximately 2,000 square feet of teaching space. Students already benefit from an electrical systems laboratory and aircraft systems lab spaces at the site.

A single-engine airplane fuselage is displayed as a teaching model in the lab. Also, Blevins plans to add a fully functional single-engine airplane to the lab within the next year.

The airframe lab’s capabilities and FAA certification is a precursor to the program’s eventual relocation to the airport next to the College’s Blountville campus. Earning the FAA Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certifications raises the skill sets for the program’s graduates.

“Ninety percent of operations you perform on an aircraft focused on the airframe,” said Blevins. “The remaining ten percent is power plant related.”

An eventual relocation to the Tri-Cities Airport requires a significant investment. More than $600,000 is needed in the short term for instructional equipment, teaching tools, and supplies.

A 2018 Pilot and Technical Outlook study conducted by the Boeing corporation projected 189,000 civil aviation technicians and 206,000 civil aviation pilots will be needed in the next 15 to 20 years in the North American market alone.

Northeast State’s Office of Grant Development is pursuing both state and federal funding sources. Details about potential funding are expected to be made available later this fall.

The College’s maintenance department made the expansion possible by opening up two separate classrooms to accommodate a fixed-wing aircraft. Three rooms became one to house the laboratory space for the airframe lab.

Pete Miller, director of Plant Operations at Northeast State, said a contracted demolition firm had opened up walls to expand the lab earlier this summer. Plant operations crew members followed up by patching the floor with new tiles and installing a new ceiling grid.

“We are finishing up the lab space and will be ready when classes begin,” said Miller.

The College’s aviation program started as a certificate program in 2015. The program added an associate of applied science degree option two years later. There are now more than 120 students enrolled in the Aviation Technology certificate or degree program.

“If you have a willingness to travel and an aptitude for mechanical and electrical things, aviation technology is a terrific path to follow,” said Blevins. “We want to lead the development of that workforce.”