KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Blount County has become a hub for aviation careers, not just because of McGhee Tyson Airport.
The county is now home to Cirrus Aircraft, a private aircraft company, and Standard Aero, which makes and repairs plane engines. The county also has a National Guard base and several small aviation businesses that have decided to make Blount County home.
To help support these businesses, county leaders have created the “Aviation Collaborative.” This effort sees the Blount Partnership working along with the Knox Chamber, airport, aviation companies and local educators.
“This is a huge opportunity for economic growth and development to attract and retain a younger workforce in Blount County and beyond. As East Tennessee grows at an unprecedented pace, the aviation industry is growing in response to accommodate more business and leisure travelers,” said Jessica Belitz, Blount County Director of Workforce Development.
Pellissippi State Community College is building its aviation maintenance school and students are introduced to the industry even earlier than that. Alcoa City Schools have a program that allows middle schoolers to use flight simulators and aircraft engineer kits. On top of the school hosts guest speakers, career exploration fairs, and sets high schoolers up with work-based learning experiences before they even graduate.
“We want to keep these students close to home and we want to show them that there are great jobs in this area for them to participate in and train in and some good money to be made in some of these jobs. Whether its pilot or whether its airframe and power plant technician,” said Patty Thomas, Director of Career and Technical Education for Alcoa City Schools.
One reason the county has emphasized education with the increase in aviation industry companies coming to town is the growing need to fill those jobs. The largest need is for more aviation mechanics and maintenance technicians.
“Those folks do everything from repair plans when there are problems. They maintain the planes when they come through and it is time for maintenance at the airport, they work on engines, they work on all the different parts of a plane to make sure they’re safe so that you and I get ready to take off for a trip. Those aircraft are completely safe and ready to fly safely,” said Belitz.
There are currently more than 300 aviation mechanics in Blount County alone and that’s only expected to grow. Belitz added that most of the salaries for the jobs start at around $60,000.