Another college may soon be coming to Atlantic County, and it could provide valuable training in a growing industry in South Jersey.
Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, located in New York, has been working with the county, the New Jersey/New York Port Authority and others to bring an 18-month certification program in aircraft maintenance to the Atlantic City International Airport to provide maintenance.
The idea of utilizing the airport came in part from the so-called Angelou Report provided to Atlantic County last year. The report stated that the airport was one of the most underutilized assets the county had available.
The goal of the Vaughn College program is to train and certify people in the area and create aircraft maintenance and repair jobs at the airport.
“You have an industry that needs support, and you have a county that needs support,” said Greg Derham of the non-profit Garden State Education Group. “I really believe the opportunity is staggering.”
Derham said he has been working as an “aggregator” between the county, the port authority and the college to get the program to the county. Garden State Education Group is a non-profit that works with school districts and colleges to create quality middle class jobs.
The long-term goal is to train people in aviation maintenance and then have large airlines bring in planes from Philadelphia or New York to Atlantic City for repairs.
The training program, currently offered at the New York college, prepares students to work on aircraft of any type, according to Fred Parham, executive director of the Aviation Training Institute at Vaughn. The students are instructed and tested on maintenance for all parts of a plane, including engines and the frame.
“All of what we do is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration,” Parham said, adding that the certificate from the FAA is very attractive to many industries.
Graduates of the Aviation Training Institute have found jobs at FedEx, American Airlines, Long Island Railroad and at other companies.
But there are still some hurdles the school and the county must get past before the idea could become a reality. A college from another state cannot just start offering classes in New Jersey. But Derham said he and county officials have been working with the New Jersey Department of Labor and state lawmakers to make the idea work because no other college in the area offers a similar program.
A spokesperson for the Department of Labor did not return a request for comment.
Another question is whether students in the program will receive college credits at Vaughn on top of the certificate. Derham said a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) is required to apply, but many other details are still preliminary.
Still, Derham said the goal is to have the program up and running at the airport by next June.
“We’ve looked at a lot of different locations, but the airport is best,” he said, adding that the exact location within the airport has not been determined. “Doing it at the airport makes a lot of sense; it’s more exciting and more relevant.”
Howard Kyle, chief of staff for Atlantic County, said the airport is an important asset as the county continues to focus on the aviation industry to help expand its economy. The county is also looking forward to the development of the Stockton Aviation Research & Technology Park, which will see ground work for the first building begin at the end of October.
“It’s not just building a park or fixing an airport; it’s building an industry,” Kyle said.
Having the program set up and ready to go by June may be a lofty goal. But Derham said the hope is to have a pilot class of 50 students and then graduate about 500 students a year once the program is in full swing.