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Aviation college has free tuition, books for local high school students

Opportunities for high school students to get ahead in their careers are endless in Covington County.

Alabama Aviation College’s Michael Barton, who is a school alum and current instructor, said Wednesday that there are also opportunities at the South Alabama Regional Airport for students who wish to become an aircraft mechanic.

Barton said that this is the second year the program in Andalusia has been back after a hiatus.

Students can start classes as early as the summer before their sophomore year and can earn certification in airframe technology and powerplant technology once they are completed.

Barton said that students can learn the majority of airframe at the Andalusia Campus doing dual enrollment courses.

He said that a student who starts in the 10th grade will have about six classes left to complete the program once he or she graduates from high school.

Barton said that there are plenty of jobs in driving distance for those who receive these certifications – Fort Rucker, Dothan, Crestview, Eglin Air Force Base and Whiting Field in Milton, even locally at Vector Aerospace. There are also jobs in Mobile.

Additionally, Barton said there are pages upon pages of job opportunities throughout the country.

“If they don’t have a job, it’s because they don’t want one,” he said.

Barton said that he has worked with people who have worked on Air Force One, the space shuttle and rocket programs.

“All this stuff ties into aviation,” he said.

Barton said that beginning job salaries are usually around $16- $20 an hour, but can be slightly less or more.

He said the top tier mechanics at UPS can make around $48 per hour or more.

The mean salary is a little more than $60,000 for aircraft maintenance technicians or aircraft mechanics.

“Alabama is doing a tremendous job in trying to attract jobs in aviation,” Barton said. “It’s a legitimate career. Will they be a millionaire? Not as long as they work for someone else, but it does make a good living.”

Students who are interested in the program must provide their own transportation, and meet some admissions requirements such as a 2.5 grade point average and school and parental permission, but currently do not have to pay tuition, thanks to a workforce development grant. Barton said there is another grant that covers books. The entire program is around $21,000 if paying out of pocket, he said.

There is no continuing education required for aircraft mechanics.

Barton said a good portion of the job is hands-on training.

He said that the FAA doesn’t allow mechanics to do work they haven’t done before unless they are supervised or can read and understand the instructions.

Barton said the school is the only aviation college in the state.

Barton said that aviation is No. 2 in importance, job wise in Alabama, with nursing being the No. 1.

For more information, call 334-222-0133.