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ENMU-R to expand aviation maintenance program

ENMU-R is taking several steps to boost enrollment in its aviation maintenance technology programs. (Submitted Photo)

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College prepares to meet needs of Ascent Aviation, other businesses

Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell wants to double the number of its aviation maintenance students, especially after Ascent Aviation of Arizona has announced plans to hire up 100 to 120 people once a new hangar at the Roswell Air Center is completed.

Community College President Shawn Powell said that he and others met with Ascent Aviation officials when the company was considering expanding to Roswell to talk about the school’s aviation maintenance technology program, which includes an Airframe and Powerplant certification approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We were looking at the recruiting for the aviation program,” Powell said. “They are also willing to help us set up specific classes that would be needed for their industry, for things in particular that they want to have.”

He said Ascent leadership also expressed interest in serving on the program’s advisory board, as they have done with colleges in Arizona.

Ascent Aviation is a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business with about 40 years of experience in the industry. It has current operations at the Tucson International Airport and Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona. It announced Sept. 28 that it intends to build a hangar large enough to work on modern wide-body aircraft on about 10 acres of leased land on the west side of the Roswell Air Center.

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It intends to begin local operations with 100 to 120 employees after the hangar is completed, expected in about a year to 18 months. But company President David Querio has said that Ascent Aviation could hire as many as 360 mechanics and support personnel within five years of beginning operations here.

Powell and Ron Flury, assistant vice president of Technical Education, said that ENMU-R also wants to continue to produce enough trained graduates to meet the needs of other area MROs who employ ENMU-R students and graduates. Those include CAVU, General Airframe Support, AerSale and Dean Baldwin Painting, which all have local operations, and Virgin Galactic near the Las Cruces area.

Flury said that ENMU-R has about 72 people in its aviation maintenance program who are expected to complete the program in the next three semesters. New students enroll each semester, with about four cohorts of students in the program at a given time. Students can earn a certificate after 78 credit hours, which could take about three semesters, or an Associate of Applied Science degree after earning 93 credit hours, which could take about four semesters.

Powell said he’d like ENMU-R to double the number of students to meet expected demand in the area. He noted that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics considers the aviation mechanics occupation to be growing more than the average. The bureau forecasts a 5% growth in jobs from 2019 to 2029, compared to an average job growth nationally of 4%. It also showed 160,000 job openings nationally in 2019, with a median pay of $30.92 an hour.

Powell added that the ENMU-R aviation program has a job placement rate of about 95%, with many of the other 5% choosing to continue their education at a four-year university.

To meet its recruitment goal of 140 or more students at a given time, ENMU-R plans to hire additional faculty, is developing several initiatives to recruit more students, intends to work with the state within the next 18 months to develop a formal apprenticeship program for the career, and plans an expansion of its aviation maintenance hangar in a few years.

Flury explained that additional instructors are needed due to the requirements of FAA accreditation.

“We are tied to a certain amount of students, 25 students (per instructor), for the size and capacity of our program, so bringing in more instructors would allow us to have more students,” Flury said.

Several recruitment initiatives also are planned. One effort is to work with Chaves County and Artesia high schools to inform students about the educational and employment opportunities, an effort that will be aided by a recent Title V grant the school received. That U.S. Department of Education grant will develop “guided pathways” and advise and mentor students as they plan during their high school years to enter ENMU-R, earn a degree and continue on to four-year colleges or employment.

Powell said the school also intends to reach out to military members and veterans who have worked in aviation mechanics while in the service, but need formal education and the Airframe and Powerplant license to move into management positions.

ENMU-R also has contracted with a production company to produce a short-form promotional documentary featuring actor Laurence Fishburne. The documentary is expected to include interviews of students, faculty and local leaders and will run nationally on public television stations for a year. The production company also will use digital marketing to deliver the video and information in other ways.

In addition, KENW, the ENMU affiliate of PBS, has produced a segment about the aviation program and the local aviation economy to broadcast in the state.

“We are trying to be as inclusive as we can in the efforts,” Powell said, “and trying to make sure that we are going to be able to meet community and industry needs.”

Ascent Aviation also has indicated that it plans to work with Central New Mexico Community College of Albuquerque in developing internships and employment opportunities.

Central New Mexico also has an aviation maintenance technology program with an Associate of Applied Science degree option as well as two certificates, one for airframe maintenance technician and the other for powerplant maintenance technician.

Communications Director Brad Moore said that the program has been operating since 2006 and typically has about 25 to 30 graduates a year. In the 2018-19 year, the last year that had in-person classes for all semesters, the school had 25 graduates earning 30 degrees and certificates.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.