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Georgia aerospace programs face financial hurdles to support growth

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FILE – In this Feb. 18, 2021 file photo, a passenger wears a face mask to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus as he waits for a Delta Airlines flight at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Federal officials are seeking fines against 34 more airline passengers accused of unruly behavior, bringing the total of such penalties to more than $1 million this year. The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 that the latest fines — which people can challenge — are part of its crackdown against incidents on planes, most of them involving passengers who refuse to wear face masks. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, file) Charlie Riedel/AP

Georgia aerospace programs face financial hurdles to support growth

September 16, 02:00 PM September 16, 02:01 PM

Georgia’s public aerospace programs are understaffed and underresourced, top school officials told a legislative panel Wednesday.

School officials said they need more skilled instructors, larger facilities and new equipment to increase aerospace education in the state.

According to the Center of Innovation for Aerospace, five technical schools, one state university and one commercial school have aerospace programs in Georgia. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified schools are limited to a certain number of students for each cohort in the program. However, top school officials told Georgia lawmakers they have had to step in to fill in for instructors because of a lack of qualified instructors.

“As we have increased our fleet size and our student enrollment size, our staff and operating budget has not been increased greatly,” said Adon Clark, dean of the School of Aviation at Middle Georgia State University.

The House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee has held a series of meetings this week to look at ways to increase the aerospace workforce. The industry contributes billions of dollars to the state and employs people in high-paying positions.

There are 800 aerospace companies in Georgia that employ 104,500 people. The industry accounts for 6.7% of the state’s gross domestic product, a Georgia Centers of Innovation report said. It provides $68.2 billion in economic benefits for the state, officials said. As workers age out of the system, however, executives said they need to recruit a new generation of aerospace workers.

Industry officials told lawmakers Tuesday that the state needs to step in and push aerospace careers in schools and colleges. School officials said Wednesday the programs need to be expanded to increase enrollment.

It cost Savannah Technical College $5.5 million to construct its aviation training center, and startup equipment, supplies and furnishings cost the school $1.8 million.

Officials said some programs are in need of new aviation maintenance equipment. Savannah Technical College has spent more than $2 million on additional equipment so far.

“If you’re teaching aviation maintenance technology, you need to be teaching on as new equipment as you can, the latest and greatest,” Clark said.

Middle Georgia State University received more than $17.2 million in state funding from 2014 to 2021. The school also is supported with contributions from other organizations, tuition and fees.

School officials said they need higher salaries to attract skilled teachers to the programs. Many of the instructors are retirees, some of which come from the military. It is unclear how much the instructors are paid.

“We need to make sure that we’re gonna keep aviation as one of the top industries in Georgia, not only keep it, but we’ll see it grow,” House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee David Knight, R-Griffin, said. “We’re not gonna see people leave because we don’t have the infrastructure and the workforce here in Georgia to keep being at the top.”

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