Manatee Technical College and Suncoast Technical College, among other partners, celebrate the groundbreaking of the new aviation school that will offer hands-on opportunities for students.
by Liz Ramos
As planes were taking off and landing at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, Rick Piccolo was shoveling dirt.
After more than five years of waiting, Piccolo, the president and CEO of the airport, was able to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Aviation Maintenance Technician School on June 29.
“(The Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority Board) and I are proud to be part of the future Airframe and Powerplant School that will provide opportunities for our children and grandchildren in a growing technical field that provides great compensation and worldwide demand,” Piccolo said.
Manatee Technical College will partner with Suncoast Technical College to staff and instruct students to provide career certificate workforce training for those who want to become aviation airframe mechanics and aviation powerplant mechanics.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the 2022 state budget that allocated $5.5 million to the new aviation school. Piccolo said the airport dedicated more than $1.5 million toward the design and infrastructure of the project.
Doug Wagner, the deputy superintendent of operations for the School District of Manatee County, said construction of the school could be complete by August 2024.
Paul Gansemer, the executive director of adult, career and technical education for the School District of Manatee County, said that although the school might be built, it must wait until the program receives accreditation from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Council on Occupational Education, which accredits MTC programs, to begin enrolling students.
Once the program begins, students will be enrolled in both the Airframe Mechanics program and Aviation Powerplant Mechanics program. An estimated 40-50 students could graduate from the school each year.
Ron DiPillo, the executive director of career and technical education for Sarasota County Schools, said this partnership between Manatee Technical College and Suncoast Technical College on one program is a first.
“We’re going to do a wonderful job collaborating with our postsecondary partners, whoever comes to the table, and work on a model for the state in terms of collaboration,” DiPillo said.
DiPillo and Piccolo said having the aviation school on the grounds of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is crucial as it provides hands-on opportunities for students.
“As technical schools, we try to create a classroom environment that’s almost as closely related to the work environment as possible,” DiPillo said. “What better place to host an aviation maintenance program than at an airport in a hangar with airplanes all around you, with like-minded professionals, recruiters and guest speakers.”
Piccolo said the new airframe and powerplant school, which will be constructed at the airport, will meet a growing need in the aviation industry.
He said United Airlines will need more than 7,000 technicians over the next few years while Boeing estimates a need for 630,000 technicians worldwide over the next 20 years.
Piccolo said the average starting salary for aviation maintenance technicians is $65,000.
Karen Holbrook, the regional chancellor for the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, said the university will be able to provide learning modules related to the aviation industry.
“We are well aware of the demand for qualified technicians, and our campus is committed to helping bolster the talent pipeline and to equipping these new professionals with skills they will need to meet the business challenges and complexities of the ever-evolving aviation industry,” Holbrook said. “We believe this coursework will provide enhanced career trajectories for the graduates in an industry sector that is prime for continued growth.”
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