Students aim high at Pima’s aviation center

By STEVE CHOICE

The Pima Community College Aviation Technology Center may be off the beaten path for many people, but local airline industry representatives have no trouble finding it.

“It’s a well-kept secret,” PCC aviation program assistant Benetta Jackson said of the facility, located adjacent to Tucson International Airport. “The companies definitely know where we are, though. They come looking to hire our graduates, which of course we love.”

That’s good news for students like ex-airman Danny Estudillo. After serving four years as a ground equipment technician at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, he too found the ATC.

Estudillo studies airframe and power plant systems, one of the program’s three main concentrations. Like Jackson, he’s happy that the center is on local employers’ radars.

“It’s really cool because a lot of the companies will come here and talk to the classes,” Estudillo said. “They tell us what to expect when we go to work for them. It’s like a little first interview before you really go talk to them.”

The program’s other main areas of study are avionics (aviation electronics) and structural repair.

All three tracks offer outstanding prospects for employment, program manager Tom Hinman said. “Anyone who completes our program and wants a job in the airline industry will have one.”

The course offerings are some of the best in the country, Hinman added.

“We develop a highly sought-after skill set, and we’re one of only a handful of schools that does it,” he said. “Combine that with the demand to fill these positions and that’s some pretty strong wine.”

Many of the graduates’ entry-level salaries can also be heady stuff, Jackson said.

“We have some students starting out at $21 per hour,” she said. “A couple of years later, it can be up to $25. That’s not bad for a 21- or 22-year-old.”

The program turns people of all skill levels into highly trained mechanics, instructor Eric Ross said.

“In the beginning, 90 percent of these students don’t even know the front of the plane from the back,” he said. “But they get there, and they do it with their own two hands.”

It helps to have some “toys” to play with, like the Boeing 727 that Federal Express donated to the school about 10 years ago, Ross said.

Given all the program offers, Hinman said he believes PCC students will keep beating a path to the ATC’s doors. Looks like the secret’s out.

PCC student Danny Estudillo checks the control panel of a Boeing 727. Aztec Press photo by Steve Choice.

Aviation program seeing more veterans

The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans is approximately one-third higher than the national average, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

Many ex-service members avoid joblessness and prepare themselves for the workplace by utilizing their VA educational benefits to attend school.

The Pima Community College aviation program currently has 17 ex-service members using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Many of the veterans were deployed to combat zones.

“Every year we have more and more veterans,” program assistant Benetta Jackson said. “It makes sense, because it’s a good program for them. They often come in with aviation experience, and their background gives them an edge.”

The U.S. military finalized operations in Iraq in December. White House officials have announced American forces will completely withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

–By Steve Choice

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