Southern Utah University (SUU) wants to create an aviation maintenance training program. Employers in the area are supporting the effort and have donated equipment and resources to get the project off the ground. School officials and accreditors plan to include the mechanic coursework as part of a larger degree program so students can earn credit toward an associate’s degree.
“The community has really come together to support what we’re trying to do,” says SUU Aviation Director of Maintenance Jared Britt. “We want our program to meet a local need, provide our residents with viable career paths and produce a specific type of employee who can add employer value on Day One.”
The biggest barrier to SUU building its envisioned program is the FAA-mandated curriculum. Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 147 governs aviation maintenance technician school (AMTS) airframe and powerplant (A&P) programs. Its subject area mandates have not changed substantially since 1962.
“The rule requires us to focus time and resources on outdated and inconsequential areas,” explains Britt. “As an institution charged with adequately preparing students for careers, we take issue with that.”
Instead of compromising its degree-program vision, SUU did something no other school has done: The university asked the FAA for an exemption from its curriculum and seat-time requirements.
SUU proposes a new approach in which the curriculum is built around emerging Airman Certification Standards (ACS). The new testing standard is a product of an FAA-industry working group and based on years of input from industry, educators and government officials. The framework covers the knowledge and skills required of an A&P mechanic and, starting in 2020, is planned to govern written, oral and practical mechanic exams.
If the agency accepts working group recommendations—and provides anticipated relief from current curriculum requirements through promulgation of a new Part 147—the ACS will provide a vehicle to modernize AMTS curricula across the nation.
SUU honed in on the new testing standard as the basis for its curriculum, believing it better aligns with industry needs than the existing coursework. “The ACS removes antiquated subject areas and adds new elements we believe are important,” says Britt. “While our peers in Alaska may need mechanics well-versed on dope and fabric, we will better serve our students in Utah if we use that time to focus on troubleshooting, human factors, avionics or rotorcraft.”
The university’s desire to put more emphasis on helicopter maintenance illustrates the rigidness of current AMTS curriculum requirements. A report commissioned by the Helicopter Association International estimates industry will be short 40,613 certificated mechanics by 2036. And, Helicopter Foundation International Vice President Allison McKay contends the pipeline of certificated mechanics is insufficient since A&P programs offer very little rotorcraft-specific coursework.
“Given the current Part 147 curriculum requirements, most A&P programs focus almost exclusively on fixed-wing aviation. Students oftentimes graduate without ever being exposed to the helicopter industry,” says McKay. “The current rule makes it very difficult to break the trend.”
While schools may incorporate subject areas beyond those dictated in the Part 147 curriculum, its 1,900-hr. seat-time mandate leaves little wriggle room since the majority of A&P programs offer an 18-month certificate or two-year associate’s degree.
For example, the Associate of Applied Science, Airframe, and Powerplant degree offered at WSU Tech goes beyond FAA mandates by requiring completion of 123 credit hours, or approximately 2,100 contact hours. “Associate degree programs are typically closer to 70 credit hours,” explains James Hall, the program’s dean of aviation technologies. “Our A&P program has by far the largest number of required credits when compared to our other associate programs.”
According to Hall, WSU Tech is considering a reduction in the program’s credit-hour offerings to bring it in line with competing degrees. “There is already a large barrier to entry for an A&P, given the required time investment,” he notes. “That makes it really difficult to add additional subject matter, even if the knowledge and skill in that area are in high demand.”
So while SUU could teach over and beyond what is required in the current Part 147, the university prefers to remove the mandates to include outdated technical areas that the university argues are a waste of time and resources.
“A welding lab alone, suitable to teach the required subject areas, would cost the university around $150,000,” estimates Britt. “Today’s A&P mechanics aren’t expected to know how to weld, so why can’t we instead use those funds on simulators or next-generation equipment?”
Nineteen companies, individuals and trade groups—including the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, Aviation Technician Education Council and Utah Governor’s office—commented on SUU’s petition for exemption.
SkyWest Airlines, which boasts an SUU graduate as its former president, voiced its support for the petition by stating: “Due to the overwhelming shortage of technicians in Utah and the nation, SkyWest urges the FAA to allow these exemptions and continual support of SUU’s proposed program and updated curriculum.”
The FAA has six months from the date of the petition’s submission to issue its decision. Public comments closed on April 18. The petition and comments are available at www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FAA-2018-0215