“We have had more students applying and expressing interest in the program than I have ever seen,” said Leo Guajardo, lead instructor in Texas State Technical College’s Aviation Maintenance program, which encompasses Aircraft Airframe Technology and Aircraft Powerplant Technology.
Guajardo said some credit for increasing program curiosity can be given to the SpaceX Launch Facility at Boca Chica Beach. He said the company provides high-tech opportunities for Rio Grande Valley residents.
“It is an alternative to the status quo,” he said. “It definitely refreshed young people in their interest.”
Raudel Garza, manager and chief executive officer of the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, said as the population grows, there will be a bigger demand for the region’s airports to be used, along with more flight opportunities. This then means more work for aviation mechanics and technicians.
“Most of the work that is being done is very technical,” Garza said. “There is a certain level of expectation from the employers for those students. TSTC has been very good at producing local workers for the workforce.”
Rolando Rodriguez is a TSTC Aviation Maintenance graduate and director of maintenance at Sun Valley Aviation in Harlingen. Sun Valley currently employes three TSTC graduates as aviation mechanics.
When it comes to filling positions for aircraft- and powerplant-certified mechanics, Rodriguez said it can take up to a couple of months to find the right job candidates. Workers do annual inspections on private planes. They also provide 24/7 maintenance for some of the airlines flying to and from Valley International Airport. Aviation mechanics rotate weekends to be on call as problems arise.
Rodriguez said the company currently has an opening for an aviation maintenance apprentice.
He said people with a fascination in how airplanes work should consider pursuing aviation maintenance. He said he became interested in airplanes as he watched them take off and land while growing up in Brownsville. His hands-on skills came from his father, who was an automotive technician.
Anthony Prats, director of maintenance at McCreery Aviation in McAllen, has hired TSTC graduates in the past. He also currently has a TSTC Aviation Maintenance student working part time as an apprentice. The maintenance shop has 10 workers, with the capability of expanding to 13. Several of the technicians have automotive backgrounds.
“For us, and for everybody in the country, it is extremely hard to find people,” he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop website, aircraft mechanics and service technicians make a yearly median salary of more than $66,000. The highest concentration of workers is in the Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio areas. Projections show Texas will need more than 19,300 workers by 2028, the highest number in the country.
TSTC’s Aviation Maintenance program in Harlingen is the only one south of Corpus Christi. TSTC offers associate degree programs in Aircraft Airframe Technology and Aircraft Powerplant Technology and certificates in Aircraft Airframe Technician and Aircraft Powerplant Technician.