BLOUNTVILLE — Northeast State Community College has received an Air Agency certificate and Airframe rating for the college’s aviation technology program from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA performed an in-depth inspection and evaluation of the college’s aviation program in December and awarded the Air Agency certificate on Jan. 15. The assessment was performed to ensure the curriculum, training equipment, instructor qualifications, procedures, and documentation meet federal aviation regulations.
“With the airframe rating, we are the only community college in the state of Tennessee that offers an associate degree with an FAA certification,” said Richard Blevins, assistant professor and director of the college’s Aviation Technology Department. “The FAA Part 147 Airframe rating is a tremendous milestone for the aviation technology program and the region.”
Next on the college’s agenda is the accompanying powerplant rating for aviation instruction programs. The powerplant rating addresses the engine and mechanical operations of an aircraft.
“The airframe category covers every part of the aircraft except for the engine itself,” said Blevins. “Also, we have a lot of subcomponents for every sub-assembly of an aircraft and training that replicates every part of an aircraft.”
The airframe and powerplant license is generally known as an “A&P” because most aviation mechanic candidates opt to complete both. To perform maintenance, repairs, or tests on an aircraft, these certifications must be earned at an FAA-certified institution, on the job, or through military experience. A&P licensed mechanics perform maintenance, repairs, and alteration tasks on aircraft, including the engines, airframes, landing gear, avionics, fire suppression, brakes, and air-conditioning system.
Northeast State offers an associate of applied science degree (A.A.S.) in aviation technology and a technical certificate in aviation maintenance technology. The two-year program requires students to complete 63 credit hours of core curriculum courses and aviation-specific courses. A student earning an A.A.S. in aviation technology qualifies to earn an aviation mechanic’s certificate/license.
“We are the only college in the United States that offers this program free to Tennessee residents,” said Blevins. “Through Tennessee Promise, qualifying students will be able to get an A&P mechanic’s license at no cost.”
Students entering the A.A.S. degree program learn skills associated with the repair and installation of aviation electronics, aircraft structures, and aircraft mechanical systems. Students also develop core skills in fuselage and sheet metal repair, electrical systems, hydraulics, and aircraft repair.
The program currently operates classroom and laboratory space at the college’s campus in Gray. The college expects to relocate the program’s entire instructional operation to a refurbished 13,000-square-foot hangar on the Tri-Cities Airport property this year. The new teaching site opens the door to achieve the powerplant rating. Per FAA standards for aviation technology institutions, the powerplant rating requires the new hangar’s space and teaching capacity.
The hangar’s renovation is expected to begin in February. Blevins said the targeted completion date for the renovation is July 31. He anticipated the college could acquire the powerplant certification within 60 days after moving into the new hangar this summer.
“We are going to coordinate with the FAA, and they will be working with us during the renovation,” he said. “We are working to ensure it is exactly what we need as a college and that it meets all FAA requirements.”
When up and running, the aviation technology department expects to move a cohort of 24 students through every training cycle to the A.A.S. degree. Blevins said the program had a waiting list for students seeking to apply.
The remodeled hangar design features two classrooms to accommodate 30 students. The laboratory space includes work stations for the turbine jet engines. Other laboratory testing tools include a PT6A test engine – commonly used in helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft – and a Lycoming 0-320 gasoline reciprocating engine. A team of up to six students work together taking those various engines apart and rebuilding them.
“We are going have a huge community outreach program,” Blevins added. “We plan to hold events for STEM teachers, girl scouts, boy scouts, civil air patrol cadets, and K-12 students to inspire and encourage aerospace and aviation.”