PIA takes off at Hagerstown Regional Airport
Richard Rice of Greencastle takes apart an airplane engine crankshaft to check the tolerances during class at Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer / June 16, 2012)
The Hagerstown school’s speedy start is no surprise, given the nation’s economic recession and the job potential for graduates trained in aviation maintenance technology, PIA and local EDC officials said.
PIA, which began in 1929, has graduates who have worked in “every segment of the aviation industry, including commercial air carriers, aircraft manufacturers and general aviation companies,” according to a catalog issued for the Hagerstown campus.
Variety of classes
Greg Null, director of student services, said PIA has about 325 students now at its four campuses — its main campus near Pittsburgh, and its branch campuses in Youngstown, Ohio, and Hagerstown, as well as its latest in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which opened in January.
At Pittsburgh, students can enroll in a 21-month associate degree program in specialized technology, with a specialization in either aviation maintenance technology or in aviation electronics technology.
The other three campuses offer the 16-month program in aviation maintenance technology. Graduates are eligible to take the exam for the FAA’s airframe and powerplant certifications.
“Nothing flies in our country without an airframe and powerplant technician signing off on it,” Ober said.
Every student entering PIA must have earned a high school diploma or a GED, and be generally good in math, O’Keefe said.
At Hagerstown, the program has four semesters. The courses step up in difficulty over the 16 months, with classes including aerospace math, aerospace physics, aircraft electrical systems, turbine engine systems, an introduction to reciprocating engines, engine troubleshooting, fluid mechanics, working with sheet metal, welding technology, aircraft inspections and landing gear systems.
The school doesn’t guarantee job placement, but it will help graduates in their job search, Null said. And, he said, the school’s experience shows that within three months of graduation, 85 percent to 95 percent of PIA graduates are employed in the field of aviation.
Jobs are increasingly available for graduates of such schools not only because many of the nation’s aviation maintenance techs are nearing retirement — the average age is said to be in the 50s — but because the jobs require such high skills, Null said.
According to a PIA newsletter, those who have graduated from its specialized technology program in the past year have been hired by such companies as Pratt & Whitney, Flight Options, Sikorsky Industries, General Atomics Aeronautical, and Gulfstream International Airlines and Piedmont Airlines, as well as several other airlines.
At Hagerstown, the tuition is $5,995 for each of the four semesters, making the total tuition $23,980. Those who live in Washington, Allegany or Garrett county can qualify for a grant of up to $4,500 for the fourth semester through the Western Maryland Consortium, Ober said.
And, Ober said, two local companies are offering to help students hold jobs while they study at the school.
The local operations of Manpower Inc., an employment services company, and Citi, a credit-card processing company, “have partnered with us to offer the students part-time jobs while they’re going here,” Ober said. “Obviously, the Citi jobs are unrelated (to aviation), but it gives them the opportunity to work outside the 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. classroom time.”
At Hagerstown, PIA’s high-ceilinged work areas are in a small part of the mammoth building once home to Fairchild Aviation.
There, thousands of workers built planes during World War II. And, over the decades to come, many others built more modern craft such as the A-10, still used by the U.S. Air Force to provide close-air support for ground forces.
The Fairchild plant closed in 1983. Top Flight Airpark, which opened there in 1986, now is home to such companies as AgustaWestland and Telford Aviation Inc., according to the marquee sign at the airpark.