‘A game changer for the future of aviation’


January 02, 2019

Liz Hardaway for Charlotte Sun

Lhardaway@sun-herald.com

Charlotte County’s aviation industry is cleared for takeoff, literally.  The county was awarded a $1.7 million grant to build a venue at Punta Gorda Airport (PGD) to train aviation mechanics, the Charlotte County Economic Development office (EDO) announced Friday.

The “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund Workforce Training” grant will allow the county and Charlotte Technical College to provide training for Aviation Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics (A& P). The county and Charlotte Technical College will negotiate an agreement on how exactly the money will be dispersed, said the EDO’s interim director, Dave Gammon. Charlotte Technical College is listed as a school on Charlotte County Public Schools’ website.

“This is a game changer for the future of aviation at PGD,” said PGD CEO James Parish. “We only see the demand for aircraft mechanics increasing as (the airport) continues to grow.”

The A& P certification will qualify graduates to take exams for a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mechanical license with airframe and powerplant ratings, said Ken Doherty, chairman of the Charlotte County Board of Commissioners, in a statement. Students will learn about aircraft structures, power plants, avionics, system design, testing and inspection, while receiving hands-on experience with many aircraft.

“Graduates of the program will drive high-paying, high-skilled jobs to the county, fueling economic growth and opportunities in skilled manufacturing and maintenance,” Doherty said.

If everything is implemented on-time, courses could start as early as Fall 2020, Gammon said. The certification course requires 2,250 hours of instruction through Charlotte Technical College. The school anticipates training 50 students in their initial enrollment session, and 100 in the following session.

Initial plans call for the hub to be in an existing hangar owned by PGD under a lease agreement.  “There may be a possibility in the future to relocate on the airport grounds to a yet-to-be-determined facility,” Gammon said.

The FAA license is the aviation industry standard for expertise, the EDO said in its press release, with A& P-trained mechanics “often viewed with the same regard that surgeons are among physicians.”

“The A& P certification course will create a talent pool of skilled workers in the aircraft mechanics industry, which is both a target industry for the Charlotte County Economic Development Office and an industry that is experiencing a very serious shortage of qualified personnel,” Doherty said.  Charlotte County is home to over a dozen companies in the aviation industry, the EDO reported.

Program graduates can continue their aviation career through programs at Florida SouthWestern State College or Western Michigan University/ Punta Gorda.  Western Michigan offers a bachelor of science degree in aviation technical operations, and Florida SouthWestern offers an associate in science degree in aviation maintenance management.

The grant came from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and will be matched by donations received by Charlotte Technical College and other in-kind contributions within the county.  Earlier this year, a public infrastructure grant of $800,000 from the state was announced to help complete a Piper Road extension project.

That $8 million project is designed with goals of driving growth near the Punta Gorda Interstate Airport Park and creating more than 1,400 jobs.