New opportunities in the aerospace industry are on the horizon for West Virginians with an aviation and maintenance program in the works at Marshall University.
The feasibility of the program will be studied over the course of the year by both Marshall University researchers and Yeager Airport in Charleston.
Charlotte Weber, Director of the Robert C. Byrd Institute, said partnerships with Yeager Airport as well as other facilities are what make the proposal possible.
“We’re not only looking at the affability just with Yeager but we’re looking at Tri-State, we’re partnering with Pierpont,” Weber said.
Ralph Workman, Jr, director of RCBI Aero, said the school would help bring jobs back to the state as well as set Marshall apart from other universities in the region.
“With the coal industry slowing down, you have this large labor pool here, and how do you get those people jobs and training? It’s all about workforce development and getting folks trained to go into the industry,” Workman said. “With that being said, aviation is a growing industry, but there is a shortage of pilots in the nation and there’s a shortage of people to work on the aircraft.”
The aviation school would potentially offer not only pilot training and a variety of degrees but a Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, certified maintenance school.
“Right now the state of West Virginia only has one FAA certified maintenance school in Bridgeport, so it would bring that here to the Tri-State region, and it’s open to kids that have graduated high school all the way up through adults,” Workman said. “In this region, the next closest would be Ohio State or way out at Purdue University in Indiana, so we would have the market here, there’s nothing in this region for maintenance training or pilot training.”
Workman said if the proposed program is deemed feasible at the end of the study, the school would offer three different forms of education: a maintenance repair and operations certificate, associate degree and bachelor’s degree.
“The shortest amount of time would be 14 months straight,” Workman said. “There’s a curriculum that’s specific, it’s based by the FAA that we have to conduct all the skill sets needed to work on an airplane. So they could go 14 months and get their certificate, and they would be eligible to take the FAA test online to get their certification and then go out into the workforce.”
An associate degree at the aviation school would take nearly 20 months to complete, with more general education classes required.
Workman said bachelor’s degrees in subjects such as aviation management and piloting will also be available to students who wish to further their education.
“You have to have certain classes and a set number of hours, we have to meet certain things just as you would if you were getting a biology degree,” Workman said. “The details are still being hashed out, but we would offer classes here at RCBI, Marshall would offer the general education classes, and of course the lab part of it has to be done in an airport.”
Workman said while the FAA has a very strict certification process, research shows that the region is capable of supporting and expanding the aerospace industry.
“We’re already a couple months into the process, and it takes them about a year normally to get the school certified,” Workman said. “It could be up to two years, but we’re shooting for at least next year having some maintenance classes.”
Workman said the first classes will be designed for about 25 students looking to earn a maintenance and repair certificate through the FAA.
“It’s an exciting time, it is a good opportunity,” Workman said. “There are kids that have the interest but they’d have to go out of state to pursue it or very far north in West Virginia. They’re definitely serious, they’re dedicated and this program will happen at Marshall one way or another.”
Hanna Pennington can be contacted at [email protected]