Ozarks Technical Community College broke ground Oct. 23 on a multimillion-dollar project that is expected to train dozens of students annually for the in-demand field of aviation maintenance.
To serve its airframe and powerplant program debuting in 2025, OTC is building a $13.2 million aviation maintenance training center at the old Springfield-Branson National Airport terminal on West Kearney Street. The two-story, 29,065-square-foot building will be next door to the 5000 W. Kearney St. pilot training facility, at which the college in 2017 started its aviation program in partnership with Premier Flight Center LLC. Expedia Group Inc. (Nasdaq: EXPE) occupies the northern side of the general aviation terminal, which is owned by the airport.
OTC spokesperson Mark Miller said Killian Construction Co. is general contractor for the aviation maintenance facility designed by nForm Architecture LLC.
City of Springfield and Greene County officials joined OTC employees and board members in the ceremonial dirt digging, as the project’s funding is through multiple agencies.
“This is a true community effort in funding from the state and federal governments, the city of Springfield, Greene County and OTC,” said Paula Adams, OTC board chair, at the groundbreaking ceremony.
The project is funded, in part, by $5 million from the state of Missouri using American Rescue Plan Act funds, $3 million from a U.S. Department of Labor grant, and $750,000 apiece from the city of Springfield and Greene County. Miller said the remaining $3.7 million is coming from OTC general funds.
OTC Chancellor Hal Higdon credited Gov. Mike Parson and Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, among state politicians that aided in project funding, as well as the now retired U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who last year helped secure federal dollars.
“All the planes, all the equipment and all the electronics will be purchased through the Department of Labor,” Higdon said.
Brian Weiler, aviation director for the Springfield airport, said the groundbreaking reminded him of the 2017 launch of OTC’s first flight school class, which began with 20 students and three training aircraft. Six years later, it’s grown to 70 students and 10 training aircraft.
“It’s hard for me to explain how excited I am for this day to come,” he said.
The airframe and powerplant program will teach students to service, maintain and repair all parts of the aircraft from nose to tail, including engines, hydraulics, the airframe body and mechanical systems, according to OTC officials. At the end of the two-year program, graduates will receive an associate degree as both an airframe and powerplant technician, said Kyle McKee, department chair of aviation technology.
McKee said the new facility will initially be staffed with two full-time instructors and possibly an additional adjunct professor.
Weiler said the airframe and powerplant program will help meet workforce demand in the aviation industry.
“There’s a tremendous need for training aviation professionals both now and into the future, especially with pilots and aviation maintenance technicians,” he said.
Weiler cited a recent Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook, which projects a strong need over the next 20 years for newly qualified aviation personnel. It notes 649,000 new pilots, 690,000 new maintenance technicians and 938,000 new cabin crew members will be needed to fly and maintain the global commercial fleet over the next two decades.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the projected growth for the number of jobs for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians at 4% between 2022 and 2032.
“People going through this program will have so many opportunities, both locally, regionally and nationally,” Weiler said, adding the OTC facility will create a direct workforce pipeline for aviation mechanics.
He said one goal is to have additional future airline maintenance bases at the Springfield airport, such as the expansion project completed for American Airlines Group Inc. (Nasdaq: AAL) subsidiary Envoy Air Inc. in late 2021. The airline expanded its aircraft maintenance operations at the airport’s cargo area near the main terminal through an $11 million, 55,000-square-foot hangar, which was more than double its previous facility, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
According to the BLS, the average wage for an aviation maintenance professional in Missouri is $62,490 annually. Nationally, median pay in 2022 was $70,740 per year, well over the median annual wage for all workers of $46,310.
As the demand for aviation personnel is high, so too is the flight traffic for passengers, according to Springfield airport data. Weiler provided an airport passenger count update at the event, noting the total surpassed 1 million for the year in the second week of October.
“We’re currently running 8% ahead of our record 2019 year,” he said. “We estimate this year we’ll finish up around 1.3 million total passengers.”
Interest takes off
Robyn Gordon, OTC’s dean of technical education, said the airframe and powerplant program has been a topic of conversation for years at the college. Plans for its launch and the training facility picked up momentum about two years ago.
The training facility will include four classrooms, two lab spaces and a large hangar area, officials say.
“I’m very excited about the integrated lab and hangar space,” McKee said. “It’s going to be very practical and very hands-on every step of the way. There will be a flight simulator in one of the classrooms, and we can talk about the impact of aerodynamics and structure of the plane.”
Several common spaces also will allow for student collaboration and studying, Gordon said.
While the program’s launch is close to an estimated two years away, McKee said people have been reaching out to the college to learn more about it. The first cohort will be capped at 25 students.
“If we wanted more than 25, we would have to add teaching staff,” he said.
Miller said the cohort size is limited due to Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
“Hopefully, in a year or two, we’ll be able to take on an additional cohort. The demand is most definitely there,” McKee said.
General aviation terminal expansion is set to wrap by August.