The future of California's Aviation Industry is up in the air

August 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
California may have the nation's largest aerospace industry, but experts say the state is losing ground. That's because companies are relocating to places like Arizona and Nevada, where state organizations focus on supporting their aerospace and defense industries and attracting others.

So what does this mean for the future of aviation in the Golden State and for students at one of the Central Valley's only schools offering a curriculum in Aviation Maintenance?

Tyler Davis is in his third semester at Reedley College. He says he entered the 2 year, 70 units Aviation Maintenance Program after the economy affected the housing industry and he had a tough time finding work.

"I did construction for a while and as you know that took a dive, so I was checking out mechanics positions and I found that aviation was probably the best field to go into," said Davis.

The best field's to go into, he said, because right now the job market is taking off.

"There's a ton of aviation jobs. We have a new shortage with the all the Vietnam Vets, pilots and mechanics becoming about 65 years old, lots of retirements," said Instructor Keith Zielke.

Open positions, Zielke said, as long as you're willing to relocate. That's because industry experts said at a recent panel in Sacramento, California is losing aerospace jobs and opportunities to other states.

"A lot of the businesses and commuter airlines have removed themselves from California to get into a more economical environment," he said.

Zielke said vocational programs like the one at Reedley College are also losing funding because of state budget cuts. He said, money for supplies has been reduced nearly 40% in the last two years; forcing the program to rely more heavily on outside help.

"It's just a real struggle to keep instructors funded and programs going and there's not much expansion allowed," he added.

The A.M.P. program just received two large donations to advance the students' education. The first, a fully functioning plane from a couple in Mariposa and secondly, a $50,000 small jet engine from Hamilton Sunstrand Power Systems in San Diego.

"We take them apart and put them back together and overtime they experience wear and tear so the fact that we have a brand new piece of equipment is exciting for us," said instructor Jason Asman.

It's also exciting for students like Tyler Davis who said once he graduates, the sky is the limit.

"Helicopters, that's where I want to go because I feel like that's the most secure," he said. "That's important for a lot of folks and their families."

Davis said he's willing to move his family to Arizona or Colorado once he completes the program.


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