Aviation mechanic school on runway

Martin airport site to fill industry need, help county renewal

January 22, 2001|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Laying meticulous groundwork, two Baltimore County business leaders are establishing a state-of-the-art aviation mechanics institute at Martin State Airport to address an alarming shortage of industry technicians and to further push economic development in Middle River.

Maryland Aviation Institute of Technology, expected to open in September on the Martin property, plans to graduate 200 students a year by 2005. The graduates will be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and could earn more than $43,000 annually.

"We'll be drawing on a pool of homegrown kids and others around the state who qualify," said MAIT President Robert D'Antonio. "There is a huge need for qualified technicians, and there is a need for meaningful career tracks in eastern Baltimore County. The entire region will benefit."

Maryland is ill-equipped to produce qualified airframe and power plant specialists for dozens of small airports and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is scheduled for expansion and additional flights. Industry experts say the shortage has reached the critical stage, and a large aviation firm has moved part of its business out of state because not enough mechanics are available.

"There is certainly a real shortage of good, qualified mechanics in the aviation industry," said Carolyn Motz, manager of Hagerstown Regional Airport and former president of Maryland Airport Managers Association. "And you can bet there won't be a shortage of jobs because the airlines are going to hire 20,000 pilots next year. So far, it doesn't appear there will be a comparable number of mechanics."

The institute at Martin State Airport would also be the latest boost for the county's east side, which for decades suffered economic and social decline. An ambitious revitalization plan is under way for Essex-Middle River that calls for single-family housing to replace troubled, low-income apartments; an Eastern Boulevard beautification project; and a riverfront tourist destination of restaurants and shops.

The careful planning for the aviation institute underscores the importance of including officials and residents in planning ambitious projects.

In November, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger suffered a major setback when county voters refused to give the local government condemnation power to redevelop sections of Essex-Middle River, Dundalk and Randallstown. After that referendum, he said his major mistakes were not building a strong consensus for the legislation in Annapolis and Towson and alienating an east-side populace that historically has shown a strong distrust of government.

For more than a year, D'Antonio and Frank Stephenson, chairman of Skytech Inc., have carefully mapped a strategy to cultivate support and counsel from state and county leaders, education administrators and residents.

Those supporting the aviation project include Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; William Donald Schaefer, state comptroller and former governor; House Appropriations Committee Chairman Del. Howard P. Rawlings; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell; and officials in Essex, including Del. Nancy Hubers and Sen. Michael J. Collins.

D'Antonio said he has also received a positive response from Nancy S. Grasmick, state schools superintendent, and private and public aviation officials such as Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill of the Maryland Air National Guard. Local high school principals and east-side business leaders are among the officers of Southeastern Baltimore County Workforce Development Corp., which was formed to oversee the project.

"One of the first pieces of advice Governor Schaefer gave me was, `No surprises,'" D'Antonio said. "I have followed that to the letter."

Organizers hope to secure $1.5 million in state funds this legislative session. The private sector and federal grants would furnish the other $4.5 million needed for a 27,000-square-foot facility and airplanes, jet engines, high-tech equipment, tools, computer equipment and furniture.

Stephenson and D'Antonio, who is also president of the Essex-Middle River-White Marsh Chamber of Commerce, said the institute will be run by officials from the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, considered one of the most prestigious in the nation.

Local organizers plan to mirror PIA's success: high-caliber students, graduate placement service, financial aid from federal and state sources, and on-site FAA certification and licensing.

Stephenson said that when his company, which sold or upgraded $30 million worth of new or used aircraft last year, embarked on a major expansion, Skytech moved part of its operation to Charlotte, N.C., because of the lack of FAA-qualified technicians in Maryland.

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