March 16, 2013 9:14:07 PM
As Lowndes County continues to solidify its presence in the South as an aerospace powerhouse, local leaders have their sights set on the future, looking for ways to ensure a skilled workforce prepared for jobs in aviation.
The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors signed a resolution Friday approving a grant application to form a training school for aircraft mechanics. The Golden Triangle Development Link will apply next week for a $2 million grant from the Mississippi Development Authority and should know within 60 days if it has been approved.
The Airframe and Powerplant School would provide training and certification licenses for people interested in aircraft maintenance and jet engine repair. The supervisors and Link officials hope it will graduate as many as 30 students per year.
It will give Columbus a competitive edge over other military communities during the next round of BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure), a process the United States Department of Defense uses to cut costs and increase efficiency by closing military installations around the nation, Board of Supervisors president Harry Sanders said Friday.
Years ago, Columbus Air Force Base provided training for students to work on CAFB aircraft, but now that maintenance is contracted out to DynCorp, leaving an aging population of locally-trained aircraft mechanics. The average age of technicians trained by CAFB is 50.
"If they get up to retiring, there's no one to train people to take their place," Sanders said. "We figure if we do this A&P School, we'll not only be able to feed people into the airbase but we can also help Eurocopter, Stark Aerospace, Aurora. It's a thing to not only help the Air Force but also the economy."
There's a growing need for certified airframe and powerplant technicians, said Brenda Lathan, vice president of economic development for the Link. But currently, Lowndes County lacks a trained workforce to replace retirees.
"We want to be proactive and solve a problem before it becomes a problem," she said. "Not only will it benefit the airbase, it's going to benefit the community as well, because we're going to be bringing more skilled workers into the area. Regardless of where they work, it's a skill they can use anywhere."
The school would be located in a hangar at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport and operated under the umbrella of East Mississippi Community College, with two instructors and a program coordinator teaching classes.
The hangar is currently being used by CAFB while the airbase's main runway undergoes renovations.
Carmen K. Sisson is news editor at The Dispatch.
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