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Northeast State's Aviation Technology Department hopes to attract new students

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Jul 31, 2019 at 10:02 PM

One could describe the field of aviation technology as a difficult one, but Northeast State’s Richard Blevins— who leads the school’s aviation technology department — sees it as a field best described as one with “unlimited potential.”

And along with that unlimited potential, there’s also a seemingly unlimited number of job openings, though in a good way. Aviation giant Boeing, for example, projects shortages of more than two million commercial aviation personnel worldwide by 2038.

That’s where Northeast State comes in — though Blevins knows they can’t keep up with demand.

“I have students that started in my program, and in the first year of a two-year program, they were hired by an aviation company like Gulfstream,” Blevins said. “That’s how bad they need mechanics.”

“If you want to get involved in aviation today, as a pilot, technician or anything — they’re going to have unlimited careers available,” he continued.

Because of this, Blevins knows the school can’t slow down, and it’s continuing to progress by upgrading facilities, including the building of a multi-million dollar hangar at Tri-Cities Airport, and expanding offerings — namely by adding a Part 147 airframe certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, which the school hopes to have by next fall.

“Once students complete that program, they’ll be certified (airframe and power plant) mechanics, which means they can go anywhere in the world and work on a U.S.-registered aircraft,” Blevins said of the program. “It’s going to be unlimited as to where they can go.”

Blevins also hopes to add a complete flight-training program as well, but that’s not likely to happen for another few years.

“That will take a person with no flight experience through the private pilot instrument rating, multi-engine rating, commercial rating and also get them their certified flight instructor rating,” he said. “We can do that in two years, and what that means for the student is, in two years as a certified flight instructor, you could be making $45 an hour anywhere.”

In addition all the plans for expanded pilot and mechanical instruction, Blevins understands that unmanned aircraft are the future, and has a drone program as well.

Over the past few years, he’s trained nearly all local first responders in drone use and has assisted FEMA and local emergency officials in inspections and search-and-rescue operations.

“We haven’t scratched the surface of what drones can be used for,” Blevins said. “I can put (drones) in places and keep people out of harm's way that you couldn’t imagine. It’s really unlimited what we can do with them and you’ll see more of them in the future.”

For anyone looking to get more information, Blevins and the department are hosting an information session on Tuesday, Aug. 6 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Gray campus, 120 Dillon Court. During the meeting, there will be information about aviation careers, drone operations and the job outlook for the local industry. There will also be drone demonstrations, lab tours and financial aid information.

It’s important to have these information sessions “because there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t have parents or students tell me they didn’t know we had an aviation program,” Blevins said.

Aviation in Washington County will “provide opportunity that (those in the area) never had before,” Blevins said. “There’s no reason you can’t, all it takes is a little commitment, but it’s also one of the coolest jobs ever.”

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