Industry-education partnerships boost aircraft repair enrollments

Aircraft mechanics are in short supply around the nation. But in Duluth, that’s changing, thanks to the innovative efforts of both aviation companies and community and technical colleges.

Aviation is booming in Duluth, led by plane maker Cirrus Aircraft and aviation services company AAR Corporation. Recently, the Star Tribune profiled the way these companies are partnering with Lake Superior College (LSC) to train the airplane mechanics so vital to their business.

At LSC, financial and material donations have boosted enrollment in the aviation repair program to a record 80 students, the Star Tribune reports. Cirrus has donated parts and AAR offers tuition reimbursement for those who sign on to work two years at the company.

One student who’s glad he chose LSC’s aviation program is Kieran Cummings, who has a year of school left but is already making a living repairing commercial jets. As the Star Tribune explains,

After a day of classes at one hangar at the airport…, [Cummings] heads to another where he works late into the night—some caffeine required.

“We’re tearing these things apart, and we’re doing everything, said the Lake Superior College student. “The experience, you can’t beat it.”

Another enthusiastic student is Brayden Wellman, who moved from the Twin Cities metro area to enroll at LSC.

The 18-year-old, who loves working on cars, also is working some hours at Sky Harbor Airport on Duluth’s Park Point.

“We get really immersed,” he said, pointing to Cirrus right next door to the college’s aviation campus, or F-16s taking off from the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing.

Aircraft mechanics programs are expensive and remain difficult to recruit for. The University of Minnesota Crookston recently suspended its program, and Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls has also struggled as a thriving economy has drawn potential students in other directions.

But at Lake Superior College, enrollment has grown in only five years from just a few students to more than 80 today. The Star Tribune cites LSC instructor William Beecroft, who

chalks that up to a growing awareness and a steady increase in the school’s resources, like a recently donated retired corporate jet. It also reflects the industry in Duluth, which has grown by 40% over the past decade to 3,200, according to state figures.

Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) is another institution that has seen aviation-related enrollment swell. Its aircraft maintenance program is located inside the Delta Air Lines hangar at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The Star Tribune reports that Delta

has also partnered with LSC and dozens of other schools around the country to “mentor and source the next generation of aircraft maintenance technicians” as it faces more than 2,000 retirements in the next decade, said Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant….

Prospective students get excited when they tour MCTC’s aviation campus, an administrator told the Star Tribune:

“They will be studying in the same building where these mechanics maintain and repair Delta airplanes,” said Vincent Thomas, dean of the School of Business and Economics and School of Trade Technologies.

[MCTC’s] aircraft maintenance program has grown nearly to capacity—70 students this year—with a boost from the Delta partnership that first started in 2013 and includes help with marketing as well as donations.