Northeast seeking federal certification of aviation program, lawmakers' help

Rick Wagner • Aug 12, 2018 at 6:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Northeast State Community College plans to earn Federal Aviation Administration certification for its airframe program in 2019 and after that certification for its powerplant program.

Those endorsements will allow people who complete certifications or associate’s degrees in aviation from NSCC to make more money in an industry booming in the Southeast.

In seeking grants to reach FAA certification, the head of the college’s Aviation Technolgy program would like the help of federal lawmakers. On Aug. 1, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and representatives of U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both R-Tenn., attended an information session about the program.

“In the future, we may ask them for letters of support for our grant applications,” Richard Blevins, associate professor and Aviation Department head at NSCC, said in a recent interview.

A big advantage of the certification is that it allows those who finish a certified program to work without being under a certified employee. It also means certified program graduates and certificate holders could oversee non-certified employees.

After certification, Blevins said, “They can basically work on any United States-registered aircraft virtually anywhere in the world.” He said that the TCATs (Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology) in Morristown, Nashville and Memphis operate aviation certification programs. He said an articulation agreement with the TCAT in Morristown already allows those who earn a certificate there to earn a two-year degree online through NSCC.

That requires five classes online and opens up East Tennessee as the only region in the nation to offer a no-cost certification program through the Tennessee Promise program, which provides up to two years of free education to high school graduates. Blevins said NSCC intends to expand the articulation agreements to TCATs in Nashville and Memphis.


The plan is to get FAA certification for the airframe program, which would allow graduates and certificate holders to work on about 90 percent of an aircraft without working under someone certified, in 2019. The cost is about $70,000. Phase two, to start after that first certification is completed, would earn a powerplant certification to work on aircraft engines. Since that requires setting up a facility at Tri-Cities Airport next door, a new hangar and equipment, Blevins said phase two would require $650,000.

In addition to helping students and filling demand for aviation jobs, Blevins said, the facility would help show potential aviation firms looking to locate, relocate or expand in the Tri-Cities that a ready workforce would be available or could be trained. The airport’s pending Aerospace Park, which is to have construction started this year, will seek to attract such businesses.


NSCC’s aviation program started as a certificate program in 2015, followed by the associate’s degree offering in 2017. Originally starting with five students, the program has grown to 116 registered for the fall term starting later this month. To date, Blevins said, 14 students have graduated in aviation — eight with associate’s degrees and six with certificates.

Among graduates, he said, one has gone to work for Gulfstream Aerospace, which makes corporate jets, in Savannah, Georgia; another for Wysong Aviation, based at Tri-City Airport; and a third to a northern California aviation company. Although Bell Helicopters operates in Piney Flats, Blevins said to his knowledge no graduate has gone to work there yet.


Blevins said the demand for aviation and aviation maintenance jobs is not being met, especially in the Southeast. For instance, he said the website avjobs.com recently reported than 21,000 such jobs are open in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

“The Southeast of the United States is becoming an aviation hub of the world,” Blevins said. And he said CEOs of aviation businesses looking for a location at the airport or in the region want to know about the pool of skilled labor.


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