Regional educational institutions are forming partnerships with Raleigh County Memorial Airport and New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA) to set the groundwork for an emerging aerospace industry in southern West Virginia.
New River Community and Technical College is developing a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified Aircraft Maintenance Technician School (AMTS) with an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) rating, New River CTC President Dr. Bonny Copenhave announced Tuesday.
The program will dovetail with a corresponding bachelor's program in Aviation Management at West Virginia University-Institute of Technology, WVU-Tech Campus Provost-Beckley Dr. Joan Neff said on Tuesday.
“This is a step forward for the college and an example of the benefits of community partnerships in supporting economic development,” Copenhaver said during a press conference Tuesday. “We are pleased to be a part of the training needs from the job creation that will come from working with the Raleigh County Memorial Airport and the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority.”
She announced that the college is applying for a FAA start-up grant to assist the college in starting the program. Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) mechanics are certified general mechanics who can independently perform many maintenance tasks on planes.
They repair and maintain most parts of an aircraft, including the engines, landing gear, brakes, and air-conditioning system.
The program will support manufacturing and innovation initiatives by working with the Raleigh County Memorial Airport and the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority. The college plans to start accepting students as early as January 2023, according to a New River CTC press release.
Raleigh County Memorial Airport General Manager Tom Cochran, who had the idea of turning West Virginia workers from the coalfields to the sky, emphasized the need for a trained workforce.
"We can't bring or ask people to come here without a trained workforce," said Cochran. "That's what this is all about."
New River Gorge Regional Development Executive Director Jina Belcher, who worked to develop and secure funding for an $8.3 million development at the airport, welcomed the announcement of the new worker training programs.
"(The schools) have joined forces to ramp up the recruitment efforts and provide a work force in the region that can stay here and continue to make a very livable wage, to continue to work in the region," she said.
For students interested in continuing their education, New River CTC is working with West Virginia University Tech to provide a pathway to allow students to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in aviation management.
Both the Raleigh County Memorial Airport and the Greenbrier Valley Regional Airport are now classified as AEROReady certified regions, indicating that the infrastructure is in place to build this sector of the economy.
The college will be issuing a quarterly newsletter on the program development. Those interested in the program or signing up for the newsletter can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
New River Community and Technical College serves nine counties in southeastern West Virginia from the Greenbrier Valley Campus (Lewisburg), Mercer County Campus (Princeton), Nicholas County Campus (Summersville) and Raleigh County Campus (Beaver).