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With aircraft technicians in demand, new aviation program at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport takes flight

Kyle Garofolo, a Mount Pocono resident, works with fiberglass as part of Johnson College's aviation technology program.
Sarah Hofius Hall
/
WVIA News
Kyle Garofolo, a Mount Pocono resident, works with fiberglass as part of Johnson College's aviation technology program.

Future airplane technicians used grinders to smooth fiberglass panels on a recent morning.

Inside the hangar at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, the Johnson College students fine-tune their futures.

“It's working with airplanes, so you can basically get a job anywhere,” said Kyle Garofolo, a Mount Pocono resident and a student in the college’s new aviation technology program.

Garofolo originally considered pursuing a career as a diesel mechanic, but decided to work on airplanes instead. He hopes to secure an internship with NASA after graduation.

Students in Johnson College's aviation technology program work with
Sarah Hofius Hall
/
WVIA News
Students in Johnson College's aviation technology program work with fiberglass and epoxy.

Midway through the program’s second semester, the college received a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. The $423,754 Aviation Maintenance Technical Workers Workforce Development Grant allows the college to provide student scholarships and purchase new training equipment.

With the FAA, the college wants to address the national demand in the field. Estimates show that commercial aviation will be 31,000 mechanics short of its needs by 2031, according to the Aviation Technical Education Council. The importance of mechanics and airline safety has been highlighted in recent months after a door plug blew off a Boeing 737 Max 9 jet mid-flight in January.

Inside the airplane hangar, students study how airplanes work and focus on the skills needed to fix them, including carpentry, metalwork, electrical and pneumatics. Ryan Stephens, the program’s director, helped students work with fiberglass and epoxy during the morning lesson.

“All of these different types of technologies are involved in this industry, and the industry is looking for all of those positions to be filled,” he said. “Just like there's a shortage of pilots, there's a shortage of mechanics to work on the planes also.”

After students complete the FAA-certified program, they will be able to take the agency’s certification tests.

The grinders buzzed inside the hangar the college shares with Geisinger Life Flight. With the construction of a new hangar for the medical helicopters, Johnson hopes to have more space soon.

Students in Johnson College's aviation technology program use space inside a hangar at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.
Sarah Hofius Hall
/
WVIA News
Students in Johnson College's aviation technology program use space inside a hangar at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

The nine students – some of them recent high school graduates and others seeking a second career – worked on their fiberglass panels. Building a birdhouse was the goal for this lesson, but soon the students could be working on fiberglass to repair actual airplanes.

Stephens, a mechanical engineer who worked in product development, became a licensed pilot more than a decade ago and began working on airplanes.

“One of the things we want students to do is get familiar with the processes that are involved in every aspect of aircraft,” he said. “Our goal here is to get the basics down for everybody, so that they get to see what is involved in the industry as a whole and hopefully pick a pathway to go in a direction from there.”

For more information about the program, visit Johnson College's website.

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org