Prepping Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Future

August 29, 2019 by Midlothian Economic Development

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It looks like clear skies ahead for the aerospace and aviation industry.

After passenger travel demand strengthened and global military expenditure continued to rise, the aerospace industry is barreling into 2019 led by growing commercial aircraft production and strong defense spending, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Aerospace and Defense Outlook.

In fact, the report found that the commercial aircraft order backlog is at its peak of more than 14,000 — with about 38,000 aircraft expected to be produced globally over the next 20 years.

The report goes on to say that with the aircraft backlog at its peak, manufacturers are expected to ramp up production rates, hence, driving growth in the sector.

In 2018, the U.S. aerospace and defense industry employed 2.5 million workers, representing approximately 2 percent of the nation’s total employment base and 20 percent of the nation’s manufacturing workforce, according to the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).

The Association outlined other industry statistics as follows:

  • In 2018, the commercial aerospace segment of the A&D industry supported 511,491 direct jobs. The commercial aerospace segment includes the design and manufacture of civil aircraft, helicopters and space systems.
  • In 2016, the national security and defense segment of the A&D industry supported 370,084 direct jobs. The national security and defense segment includes the design and manufacture of military aircraft, ground systems, ships, tactical vehicles and related systems.
  • In addition to the jobs supported by the industry’s commercial A&D and national security segments, U.S. A&D supported an additional 1.67 million jobs in the industry’s supply chain, which includes 712,735 jobs in firms providing services to manufacturers.

Growth is always good news for any industry, but challenges are still inherent.

As this industry continues to move forward at a rapid pace, educational entities are under pressure to keep the talent pipeline full to meet the ongoing need for technical skills across a variety of capacities. Add to that a projected shortage of pilots, and the critical importance of training and upskilling in this industry becomes crystal clear.

In recent news reports, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has said that he believes a growing shortage of pilots represents “one of the biggest challenges” facing the airline industry.

Demand for air travel is growing so rapidly that 804,000 new pilots, 769,000 new maintenance technicians, and 914,000 new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years, according to Boeing’s latest forecast.

Boeing suggests that demand will stem from a mix of fleet growth, retirements, and attrition, and that meeting this strong demand will require a collective effort from across the global aviation industry.

As several hundred thousand pilots and technicians reach retirement age over the next decade, the company contends that educational outreach and career pathway programs will be essential to inspiring and recruiting the next generation of personnel.

Enter technical education.

Igniting Student Interest

In a growing suburb 26 miles south of Dallas-Fort Worth, school district officials are planting the seeds of future innovation to meet area workforce demands.

The Midlothian Independent School District (MISD) is enhancing its offering of career and technical education (CTE) to ignite students’ passion for 21st-century skills, college readiness, and entrepreneurial endeavors.

One of the district’s many CTE programs is its Project Lead The Way STEM Aerospace Engineering pathway, which complements North Texas’ thriving aerospace and aviation market.

A relatively newer program in the district, it allows students to explore both modern military and commercial aviation. Students learn how to conduct pre-flight inspections, engine start-ups, and taxi aircraft as a key part of ground operations.

Careers related to this field could include:

  • Commercial pilot
  • Aircraft maintenance manager
  • FAA maintenance technician
  • Aerospace machinist
  • Aeronautical engineer
  • Air traffic controller
  • Flight test engineer
  • Structural analyst
  • FAA maintenance inspector

This pathway includes introductory engineering classes during freshman and sophomore years, followed by more advanced aerospace engineering and practicum in engineering during the junior and senior years.

The district has also partnered with leading North Texas manufacturer Lockheed Martin to allow students the opportunity to explore careers with the defense and security giant.

During the school year, Lockheed Martin conducts a full-day expo with various stations that let students analyze careers in aviation through hands-on interaction with virtual reality goggles, flight simulators, and more.

Presently offered at one of Midlothian’s two high school campuses, MISD’s Aerospace Engineering program will be expanded with the district’s opening of its Irvin Repurpose, which will house several new curriculum opportunities for MISD’s high school students beginning in fall 2020. 

The former JR Irvin Elementary school will be repurposed to accommodate upper-level career and technology courses and will allow students to get real-world, hands-on experience in a variety of fields, including aerospace. Currently in the design phase, the campus will offer curriculum and programs that align with aerospace and other technical job demands of the metroplex.

Building Aviation’s Future Through Education

Upon graduation, MISD students can further their aerospace and aviation training thanks to several top-notch college programs in the region.

The innovative Texas State Technical College (TSTC) offers multiple programs, including precision machining, electrical power and controls, and industrial systems-electrical specialization at its North Texas campus in nearby Red Oak.

Its Waco campus — an hour south — offers an even broader array of programs including aircraft airframe technician, aircraft dispatch technology, aircraft pilot training technology, aircraft powerplant technology, avionics technology, and more.   

Tarrant County College in Fort Worth has advanced composite technology, commercial pilot, avionics line maintenance, aviation maintenance, and electronics technology programs, to name just a few.

Other aviation-related educational programs can be found in the North Texas region at University of Texas at Arlington, University of North Texas — Denton, Aviation Institute of Maintenance, and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University — Fort Worth Campus.

In other words, the Dallas-Fort Worth region is brimming with dynamic facilities poised to take students to the next level of aerospace and aviation education.

Promising Horizons

The region’s rich array of industry talent has proven a lucrative asset for the myriad aviation and aerospace companies in North Texas. Consider Lockheed Martin’s hiring blitz of 3,000 new employees over a span of 22 months in 2017 and 2018 for its sizable Fort Worth manufacturing plant where it produces the F-35 fighter jet.

Other aerospace companies in Dallas-Fort Worth include Bell Flight, major supplier Triumph Group, Inc., Raytheon Co., L3 Technologies, Inc., Airbus Helicopters, and more. Additionally, Boeing Co. has a business unit based in Plano.

And in a move that further elevated DFW’s reputation as an aerospace and aviation hub, California-based Aeromax Industries Inc. announced in May 2019 it would relocate its headquarters to North Texas.

The region’s long history in the aerospace and aviation industry, paired with its business-friendly environment and expansive, tech-savvy labor pool, make North Texas a growing favorite for industry operations.

Feeding the pipeline of talent for North Texas’ aerospace and aviation industry is essential, and Midlothian ISD is among many schools in the area reinforcing the region’s emerging workforce.

Judy Demoney, airport manager of Midlothian’s Mid-Way Regional Airport on U.S. Highway 287, agrees that education is essential to reaching students at a young age and spurring interest in aerospace and aviation careers.

“There is an extreme shortage of pilots in the worldwide aviation industry, and the demand is expected to increase dramatically with age-restricted retirements,” said Demoney. “Those pilots were military-trained, many in the Vietnam era, and are reaching the FAA required retirement age of 65. The military is no longer the leading source for trained pilots and other aviation-related careers. It’s important to reach students at a young age to educate them to the long-term career opportunities in the aviation and aerospace industries which are in such demand, especially in the North Texas area.”

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