A new program at Craven Community College (CCC) is training young pilots to prepare them for careers in the aviation industry.
The Aviation Management and Career Pilot (AMCP) program bring in students with little to no experience and by the end of the two-year program, they have an associate’s degree in addition to all the ratings to become a professional pilot.
This means they will be qualified for jobs as commercial, corporate and military pilots, as well as airport managers, fixed-base operators, flight instructors, flight dispatchers and more.
A program of this caliber is one of very few in the entire country, especially at a community college level.
“I really feel that our program is second to none,” said Mark Marstellar, the Director of Aviation Programs at CCC. “As small as it is, I mean we’re keeping it small for that reason. At least until we have some track record, at least until we build it up.”
Learning topics include fundamental knowledge of flight concepts, aerodynamics, meteorology, aircraft systems, airline operations, flight safety practices, and human factors.
“I saw that there was a new program and I looked into it and it looked really interesting and plus the opportunities for being a pilot right now are really really good,” said Carenna Collins, an AMCP student.
The school has invested in a high-quality flight simulator, one of the best in the industry according to Marstellar, and an experienced instructor to give the students free training.
Marstellar says the simulator gives CCC students an edge over the competition because they come out with around 300 flight hours, all at a lesser cost.
“They’ll come out of here with 300 hours, 2 years, a degree, and they can take that and go straight to SIU who we’re partnering with for a four-year degree and complete their education that way if they choose or they can stop where they are,” said Marstellar.
There is a global shortage of pilots and airplane mechanics.
The pilot shortage is estimated to be around 6,500 pilots for the airline industry in the next five years.
“Everyone’s short of pilots. Even the air force is short of pilots,” said Marstellar. “Working together with all the aviation schools in the country, we can’t even come close to filling that demand.”
That doesn’t include corporate and private pilots.
Airline pilots are required by the FAA to retire at age 65 and according to Marstellar, the average age for pilots is in the late ’50s which means pilots are aging out.
“Within the next five years, we’re looking at massive retirements, forced retirements. Some of those will probably drop into the corporate industry and otherwise, but for the most part, the airlines are out of pilots. That’s the serious problem right now,” said Marstellar.
Airline mechanics are also greatly needed.
Mechanics must be licensed to operate and like pilots, the average age of mechanics is the late 50’s.
While mechanics are required to retire at any specific age, the industry is still seeing a large number of retirements.
CCC also has a program to train aircraft mechanics.
Students enrolled in the Aviation Systems Technology (AST) program get hands-on training with a wide variety of aircraft.
“We learn the basic principals of how to be an aircraft mechanic,” said Rodolfo Norez Jr., a soon-to-be graduate of the AST program. “When we get our license through the FAA, our certificates, they say ‘hey this is a license to learn.’ So by no means do we know everything, but it says we have the ability and the capacity to learn this job and to do it properly.”
As the program progresses, students become available to test for their FAA certifications.
Several companies such as Delta Airlines and Piedmont Airlines have sent recruiters to CCC to look at students coming out of the aviation school, something Marstellar says doesn’t usually happen.
“It’s exciting because it’s kind of unheard of…to to have that attention on us and it’s a good place for the school,” said Marstellar.
Smaller regional companies and organizations are also on the hunt for pilots and mechanics and have their eyes on CCC.
Marstellar says the program would not be successful without the support from the college and the community.