Aviation Faces Uncertain Future

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Due to low enrollment and the high cost of running the program, the aviation department’s maintenance division could face possible removal from GCC’s course offerings.

The once renowned department will have until the winter of 2006 to continue its run, after which its future will be determined by the college’s board. On March 21, the board of trustees moved to form a task force to examine the viability of the maintenance department.
The task force will include faculty members, community representatives, representatives from the aviation industry and students.

“The task force was [created] to look at the different ways to handle the situation instead of cutting the aviation [maintenance] department completely,” said Associated Students President and student trustee Armen Kiramijyan.

One of the possible outcomes of the task force’s investigation could see the aviation’s maintenance program moving from an accredited program to the non-credited Community Services Education programs.

“The board wants to give it a one-year hiatus and see if we can restructure the program, maybe move it out of the certificate program and move it into career service,” said Tony Owen, senior instructor of Airframe and Powerplant in the aviation department.

The maintenance side of the aviation department teaches two courses, Airframe and Powerplant classes. The Airframe classes involve instruction in aircraft construction and repair, while the Powerplant classes involve aircraft engine maintenance. These classes provide the training needed to qualify to take the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aviation Maintenance Technician certificate and prepare the students for a degree in aviation administration or aviation maintenance engineering.

The training provided by this department not only opens opportunities for employment in aircraft repair and maintenance for airlines, but also feeds into corporate aviation. “We feed companies like Tutor-Saliba, Dreamworks, Warner Brothers,” said Owen. “So if we cut off a program like this, that pool from which they can draw perspective candidates begins to really diminish.”

“The short answer is, your flights get cancelled,” said Bill Schenewerk, 59, a student in Owen’s Airframe class. “If the planes don’t get fixed, nobody flies.”

Students currently enrolled in the aviation maintenance classes have until February of 2006 to complete their training, during which the board will decide on the final verdict for the program. If the decision to cut the program is made, any students who have yet to complete their aviation maintenance training have to look to other schools.

If these classes are moved into Community Services, students can only receive credit if they pursue the aviation maintenance license from the FAA. If not, these classes would be considered non-credited enrollment.
The nine students currently enrolled in the program, down from last semester’s 14, are just not enough to cover the cost of running the program. “We’re already graduating, so I have mixed feelings about it. There are better opportunities because there’s less competition,” said Nick McBride, 24, a student in the aviation program’s Airframe class. “But overall it’s sad for the industry.”

The courses at risk of getting cut are those “where the cost of running the program is higher than the number of students enrolled in the program,” said Owen. While it is the aviation department that is suffering from these budget cuts, the administration looks through a whole number of programs on campus.

The reasons for the slumping enrollment in the aviation courses could be attributed to a whole range of possibilities. “We don’t know if it’s the demographics of the area that has changed or if students today don’t want to get their hands dirty,” said Owen.

The maintenance side of the aviation department has been around for 60 years, and got its start when the original aviation department branched out from pilot training during World War II to aircraft maintenance, where it grew in size and distinction. The aviation building that was recently torn down used to be one of the two buildings that housed the aviation maintenance classes. Now only one of the two remains.

Not only does the school’s aviation department have a rich history, aviation maintenance also provides an avenue for students who do not fare well academically, but excel in their technical abilities.

“Programs like this give what you could call the academic underachiever the opportunity to get good at something and to raise their self esteem,” said Owen. “Many people that are put into programs like this have reading or math problems.”

Paul Samuelian, an aviation student, stresses the need for courses like aviation maintenance. “There’s been a push in academia to promote college education in the academics side and to minimize vocational education, and there’s a certain segment of the population that really won’t make it with the college degree but will be very successful working with their hands in a vocational program [such as the aviation program].”

Samuelian’s son took the same aviation course in 2001, and said that even then the aviation department was having problems. “The counselor didn’t even know about the aviation course,” he said. Although he believes the budget cuts were necessary, he thinks “they have been exacerbated by ineffective advertising on the college’s part.”

While the aviation task force has yet to meet, the future of the aviation maintenance department hangs by a thread. If the board agrees on final termination, all the tools and equipment of the aviation department will have to be packed and sold, and one instructor will have to resign.

The chances of an aviation maintenance course reappearing once it is discontinued are slim to none, due to the $3 million cost of restarting a program of this size.

“It is a great department we will lose,” said Kiramijyan.

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