Gov. Ron DeSantis approved about $5.5 million in Florida’s 2022 State budget to go toward the construction of the school at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
BRADENTON, Fla. — Some Tampa Bay area community college students are excited about an aviation maintenance technician school that has recently been approved for construction.
The school would help provide training and certification for aviation mechanics at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, according to officials with the School District of Manatee County.
Early this month, the school district announced funding for the project, which makes available career certificate workforce training in the areas of airframe mechanics and aviation powerplant mechanics.
Gov. Ron DeSantis approved about $5.5 million in Florida’s 2022 State budget to go toward the construction of the school.
Manatee Technical College, in partnership with Sarasota’s Suncoast Technical College, will provide the education as well as academic instruction and skills acquisition training in conjunction with the airport, officials said in a news release.
A number of students who were in their classroom workshop learning different vocational skills were excited about the new development. They said it would not only benefit some of the younger people who are just starting out in life but also those in search of a new career path.
“It’s not just automotive that we work on there’s also boating, marine, and even aviation,” said Patrick Anderson, an automotive program student at Manatee Tech. Anderson is from Palmetto and was in the U.S. Military for eight years.
“The professor brought some pieces of aircraft that we’ve been working on for this school year. We are working on three pieces, how to fix it, get it inspected and make sure it passes inspection and how the crewmember can put it back on the right aircraft fly so that it can fly and land safely,” said Carlos Fonseca, another automotive program student at Manatee Tech.
Fonseca is also a veteran and had spent 21 years in the military before he decided it was time to make a career switch.
The programs that would be offered at the aviation technician school would require around two years to complete and would provide the students with more career choices in the aviation sector. That would include instruction at airport facilities.
“The plan is to build a hanger and a classroom facility right there so that the instruction and the actual hands-on opportunity will be right there at the airport,” said Dr. Valerie Viands, director of Manatee Technical College.
As is the case with many industries just recovering from the impact of the pandemic, there is a shortage of aviation mechanics in the country. The Bradenton Area Economic Development reported that there are around 1,500 yearly openings for service technicians and aircraft mechanics.
“The aviation maintenance training program at SRQ will be a valuable strategic asset for economic development in the Bradenton area and our region,” President and CEO of the Bradenton Area EDC Sharon Hillstrom said. “Companies want to locate in forward-thinking communities that understand the value of collaboration and that support education, workforce development and business expansion.”
The Bradenton EDC also stated there are more than 50 employees in the aviation and aerospace industry operating in the Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Manatee Tech leaders said the program is an opportunity to combine the much-needed academic skills with the necessary hands-on learning for the job market.
“This is going to help us be able to provide that pipeline to really help the airport have the mechanics that they need and for the students to be able to have the skills that they need to get a great earning job,” said Dr. Paul Gansemer.
Gansemer is the executive director for Adult, Career, and Technical Education at the School District of Manatee County.
“Of the scope of the project, that sounds like we’re receiving a lot of money, but this is really starting the project from the beginning. It’s to be able to build a building, to be able to get the equipment, to be able to get the instructor. That takes a while for all to happen, then to start classes. All of this has to be approved and certified by the FAA so we’re looking forward to that happening within two to three years up and going. But with the planning stages already there and now that we have the funds, we look forward to moving forward and that plan,” said Gansemer.
The airport’s leaders say this would also attract major aircraft maintenance firms to SRQ.
“This school will create worldwide opportunity for students in our entire region in a growing industry,” SRQ President and CEO Rick Piccolo said.
While aviation technician school may still be several semesters away, a number of students in the automotive program are already weighing their future options.
“For those who just want to be painters even, it’s pretty much a way to get your foot in the door working with aviators like pilots and aircraft mechanics I think it would be a pretty good experience,” Anderson said.
“I’m telling you, I want to invest in that trade. I want to work on fiberglass and go through that training because I know where the money will be and it’s aviation. So I mean, it’s a great investment that the school is putting that program together for us and investing in our youth,” Fonseca said.
Along with SRQ, Suncoast Technical College and the University of South Florida are also partnering with Manatee School District on this project.