The Growing Demand for Avionics Experts at Airlines

Admin Airplanes, Flex Air News

Anaseini Naulivou, a student at the Avionics program at Everett Community College, in Washington, hopes to one day be an airplane designer. For now, she is working on assembling the aircraft designs of others.

Naulivou, one of the first ten students in the program, is learning to troubleshoot, repair and maintain aircraft electronic systems.

“How I look at it is if I were to design something, I need to know what it’s going to do and how it will behave out in the field,” Naulivou said. “In that way, it will make me a better designer, because I’ll have hands-on experience.”

The course, offered by the Aviation Maintenance Technology School, is the first program of its kind in Washington State.

“Avionics is a wide field,” said Raylene Alexander, a professor of avionics. “It’s everything from the reading light of the passenger who sits in an aircraft with a book to complicated glass cockpits and autopilot systems. It’s anything (on an aircraft) with a wire.”

Avionics is becoming increasingly important in the aircraft manufacturing field now that companies like Boeing and Airbus are incorporating wiring controlling flight into their planes.

“It’s really an emerging field in the last 10 years,” said Rob Prosch, Associate Dean of Aviation. “The issue is because everything has gone so high tech with electronics, we have (aircraft mechanics) who have no idea how to troubleshoot and repair it.”

Boeing contacted Everett a couple of years ago in hopes of starting an Avionics program that could be replicated by other state colleges.

The program is sponsored by Boeing, Woodinville’s Dynon Avionics, and Delta Airlines.

There is a growing need for aircraft mechanics given that many aviation industry workers are due to retire in the next few years and the airline industry is expected to grow, Prosch said.

Though students can obtain a two-year degree in aircraft mechanics without enrolling in the program, those with an avionics certificate are much more marketable, Prosch said.

Everett approved the program in January and Alexander was recruited from Kansas State University to develop an avionics curriculum for the college.

Alexander began as an avionics technician in the Marine Corps in 1980. Though she had been contemplating retiring, Prosch convinced her to sign on. “Quite truthfully, he just wore me down,” Alexander said.

The program began with 10 students and will expand to 20 this fall. It will be offered twice a year.

This summer, Alexander took her students to a hangar to work on a Piper Apache.

John Poppke, one of the students, is a retired mail carrier.

“We’re going to dismantle the old instrument panel, because we’re getting a donated glass cockpit, which means we’ll replace all the steam gauges and put in a nice screen that you can touch and move things and go from one screen to another real easily,” Poppke said.

He already has his degree in aircraft mechanics but decided to sign up for the avionics program.

“I’m thinking about building a kit plane and I want to know as much as I can before I go out and kill myself,” Poppke said.

Naulivou, 34, has worked as an avionics trainee at Fiji Airlines, but the company wasn’t able to offer her a position in the department following her apprenticeship. Instead, she was hired as a materials planning officer, supplying parts and equipment to jets around the world.

Her dream, though, is to design airplanes. She moved to Seattle in 2015 to study at Everett, and hopes to transfer the University of Washington in 2019 to study aeronautics.

“As you see, aircraft designing is moving into more digital instead of cables and hydraulics running through it,” Naulivou said. “I think that with avionics that I’ll have an advantage over other students.”

The Aircraft Electronics Technician Training program at Everett is “a two-quarter curriculum that includes electric, electronics, digital systems, and avionics for airframe and powerplant systems.”