More than 30 Gavilan College students will pack everything up and head 11 miles north this fall, as the aviation program moves into a newly constructed hangar and renovated classrooms at San Martin Airport.
The program has trained and graduated many aviation maintenance technology professionals as licensed A&P technicians who ensure air safety by maintaining, repairing and building aircraft. Housed at Hollister Airport for decades, the program moved to the Gilroy campus in 2010. Students have split their time between classrooms in the Multipurpose Building and lab work at San Martin Airport hangars.
With the relocation, Gavilan immediately approached Santa Clara County, owner and operator of San Martin Airport, to explore ways the program could use the local general aviation airport facilities.
Collaboration key to success on the new facility
Discussions began in June 2010, initiated by former District 1 Supervisor Don Gage, then a member of the Santa Clara County Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee. Multiple Gavilan departments, County committees and commissions collaborated to craft a new, long-term location for the aviation program. Planning was championed by successor District 1 Supervisor Mike Wasserman, culminating December, 2015 with unanimous supervisor approval of a 20-year lease, with two five-year renewal options.
Sherrean Carr, Dean of Career Technical Education (CTE) overseeing the aviation program said the overall process, from first inquiry to groundbreaking for the new construction, has been slow but steady. She credited success to the aviation faculty, many departments at the college, numerous people at the county and especially the efforts of Fred Harris, Vice President of Administrative Services, who got everyone to "yes" during the process.
Aviation Maintenance Technology - A Program and a Career
Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) is a program at Gavilan certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) where students learn airframe, powerplant and aviation powerplant systems technology, earning either an Associated Science degree or certificates, based on their academic plan.
"There are lots of grads from Gavilan working in the industry," noted to Travis Flippen, 20-year instructor with program.
Aviation maintenance programs at many Bay Area schools have closed. San Jose State University has a 2 + 2 articulation agreement with Gavilan College. Students receive their Airframe or Powerplant Associate in Science degrees at the community college and then transfer to the university. They move quickly through their second two years to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in aviation maintenance.
Instructor Herb Spenner, who has taught aviation at Gavilan for six years, said the AMT program has structured the general, foundation requirements and the airframe and powerplant requirements so students can start any semester and advance through the program.
"The program is good value for their tuition," Spenner said. "They take classes, invest in their own tools and pay for the FAA testing" to obtain licenses after completing the program.
Students develop teams going through the rigorous program, according to a recent graduate. "You stay with the same people for two years, so you form bonds with your classmates. That continues when you enter the same career field."
To fulfill the FAA mandated hours, AMT students start each semester more than two weeks before regular classes begin. They are in class or in lab working on avionics projects five hours a day, Monday through Friday.
An airport location benefits student careers
The space constraints impacting the program during the past five years limited enrollment to 25-30. The move to the airport creates space for the class size to expand to 50. San Martin Airport is central to a great deal of aviation activity as one of three Santa Clara County general aviation airports.
"Being situated on San Martin Airport," said Spenner, "students will have access to aviation businesses in Santa Clara and San Benito Counties. Area agricultural growers, here and in Salinas, use small aircraft for many purposes."
Fast-track construction begins
Even before the lease with San Martin Airport was signed, Gavilan's Facilities Director Jeff Gopp developed plans to relocate three portable buildings from the main campus to the airport. He also drew up plans to construct a new hangar. By September 2015, the California Division of the State Architect (DSA) approved the project. A job walk-through was scheduled three weeks later and bidding began. After the lease approval by the county, 20 members of the construction team attended the project kick-off meeting on January 15, 2016. Construction began 10 days later.
Excavation, underground utility work, storm and sanitary systems work began during the next several weeks. Pipes rose out of the ground and foundations were prepared. The portable buildings were split apart into 40' x 12' sections, shrink wrapped, caravanned up Highway 101 on a Saturday in March and placed on pads. Separated into these smaller sections, each piece measured just under the California highway size limit requiring a wide load permit. When reassembled, each classroom will be 1440 square feet.
Foundation steel was placed and concrete was poured for the new hangar the last week of March, and underground utilities and conduit were installed. By the end of April, structural steel was erected for the new hangar, now visible from the highway, and work continued on the classrooms.
San Martin's Wings of History Air Museum held its open house in mid-May, and visitors viewed the construction up close, enjoyed plane rides and tethered balloon rides, watched demonstrations and saw aircraft.
By the end of May, the hangar roofing system was installed and retrofitting of the modular classrooms neared completion. In June, structural steel framed the hangar walls as the project continued on schedule to a mid-July completion. Gopp navigated the challenging approval process across Santa Clara County, the DSA and the FAA, which will visit to approve the hangar before aviation classes begin in mid-August.
Well-paying career opportunities accompany A&P licenses
Students who earn their certificates and pass the required FAA tests find lucrative work as airframe or powerplant specialists in aviation mechanics, service, repair, sales, aircraft manufacturing, electronics, hydraulics, pneumatics, fuel systems, civil and military defense.
"A recent AMT grad is now working in San Jose at a major corporation," said Flippen, "maintaining corporate jets and making more than $100K." Other students work locally as mechanical shop managers.
One former AMT graduate currently works at Loral Space & Communications on satellites, another is employed with local county mosquito abatement programs. A third graduate works at a hospital heliport.
"AMT is a field where students learn a lot of different skills," said Spenner. "They can start in a position and discover additional things they can advance to do." The industry is growing, the job market is hiring, and the AMT department receives more employment requisitions than there are students. "These skills are very difficult to replace with automation," added Spenner.
Three students, three different paths
Tyler Jorgensen, a Gavilan AMT graduate, said that aviation is just in the family DNA. His dad is a pilot and an A&P mechanic, and he and his sister are both pilots.
"Being a pilot/mechanic has its benefits," he said. "You are able to correlate the circumstances of a problem more efficiently." His favorite part of the AMT program was getting to know the skills needed in the workforce and how each system works on an aircraft.
Jorgensen entered the Gavilan AMT program after earning a BS in aviation from SJSU. While he attended Gav's program he worked servicing aircraft. After earning his A&P certificate and passing the FAA tests, he was hired by United Airlines to work on the Airbus A319 and A320.
A love for aviation drew Alex Stockdale to want to be a pilot, and he enrolled at SJSU to study aviation operation. "After three semesters of classes, and talking to pilots and others," he said, "I realized being a pilot was fun but cost an extraordinary amount of money, and most made very little."
He benefited from Gavilan's job outreach support. "The program helped get me a job after my first semester, overhauling aircraft engines, that I worked at the whole time I was at Gavilan."
Stockdale is now back at SJSU in the four-year program. He also works at the Jet Center at San Jose International Airport, installing new electrical equipment, flight displays and radios. Reflecting on his time at Gavilan, he said, "I couldn't recommend this program enough. The instructors are incredibly knowledgeable and care about the students."
After a disappointing start at a different school, Chris Bonk, a current student, almost changed career paths entirely. Then he called the Gavilan AMT office.
"Deborah Santos was very helpful, got me in touch with Herb Spenner," he said. "We talked about my situation with the school, the VA, and he was very understanding. He insisted I give his class a try."
I couldn't be happier with that decision."
Bonk, who has completed his first year, has career plans to work overseas after he finishes the program.
Funding construction, curriculum and equipment improvements
Last year the FAA announced changes to the aviation maintenance certification, with an increased emphasis on electronics and turbine engines. It just recently upgraded textbooks and curriculum.
"Gavilan's program was already prepped for the change," said Spenner. "We were already moving away from building with wood and had a greater emphasis on aluminum, advanced composite work and computer controlled electronics." The program is now buying new equipment focusing on turbine engines and modern testing methods.
For students embarking on this program, materials are accessible on the college's iLearn online program. The instructors have posted all the lectures, presentations, homework, assigned projects and FAA sample tests.
The new facilities at San Martin Airport offer an improved aviation maintenance program, more attractive to students. Spenner is positioning the department to help keep students' skills current. "They are learning new skills," he said, "working with electrical panels, welding, metal working, learning to run engines and measure to 1/10,000 of an inch to build all the parts."
The hangar construction at the airport was funded with Measure E monies, a bond approved in 2004. "In addition to that," according to dean Sherrean Carr, "Gavilan was able to tap CTE Enhancement funding available statewide this fiscal year, to allow the program to acquire new instructional equipment and materials."
The AMT program also met eligibility criteria for Vocational and Technical Education Act monies. The recently approved California state budget for 2016-17 includes $200 million in ongoing resources for the CTE Strong Workforce program.
Career technical education ("CTE") at Gavilan
During the past eight years, the number of CTE certificates and degrees awarded has more than doubled, from 350 in 2007 to 847 in 2015.
"CTE provides students of all ages with the academic and technical skills, knowledge and training to succeed in future careers," said Carr. "CTE programs prepare individuals for skilled professions that are essential to our nation's economic stability."
In addition to the aviation program, Gavilan College also offers CTE certificates and degrees in the fields of allied health, business, computer science, digital media, child development, cosmetology and water industry technology.
AMT program support, opportunities and networking
"The AMT program helps students discover job opportunities," said Spenner. The program office receives job requests from area employers, then sends out a biweekly email blast to students and grads with updated job opportunities.
The program also guides students in networking, job search techniques, resume and cover letter writing.
Additional AMT program outreach includes field trips to job fairs, airlines, major companies and trade shows. Students are matched with internship opportunities while studying in the program, and staff speak at area high school career days. The AMT program presents booth displays at the Salinas and Watsonville air shows.
Plans for program expansion include outreach to retired pilots who want to learn the maintenance aspect of aviation, and adding drone technology, with research into a UAS class currently in process. More information about the program is available online at gavilan.edu/aviation, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (408) 852-2861.
Moving day is approaching
The instructors and staff are preparing to move the department completely off the Gilroy campus by the end of July. The first day of classes for the AMT students is August 10.
The public grand opening celebration of the new AMT facility at San Martin Airport is September 13, from 4:00-6:00 p.m.