Sunday, December 02, 2018

Facing a shortage of aircraft mechanics, North Valley Occupational Center’s Aviation Center is flying high with a new generation of students

Monica Hernandez, 20, and Sugun Ratti, 21, use a propeller protractor to measure a blade angle as aviation instructor Dave Bowerman supervises on November 27, 2018 during LAUSD North Valley Occupational Center Aviation Center’s Aircraft Mechanic School. With more mechanics retiring, opportunities are climbing in the field, especially for women. Both young women are working in the field, Hernandez is working in a clean room on flight hardware at JPL and Ratti is at JetWorx as an apprentice technician.

When she was a senior at Poly High School in Sun Valley, Monica Hernandez knew she didn’t want to go to an expensive college, leaving her and her parents with a financial burden.

So when she heard from a guidance counselor about a career in the trades and a district program that trains students to be aircraft mechanics, Hernandez was interested.

“To be able to say I’m going to be an airplane mechanic, that’s going to be cooler,” she said.

Hernandez, 20, is one of a growing number of young women who are enrolled at North Valley Occupational Center’s Aviation Center at the Van Nuys Airport, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Adult and Career Education program.

The school offers daytime and evening classes for students to prepare for the Federal Aviation Administration licensing exam for airframe and powerplant mechanics. Of the school’s 150 students, about 10 percent are female, according to district figures, higher than the national average for women in the profession — less than 3 percent.

Ed Holyoke, who has taught at the school for five years and attended the school as an adult, said he’s seen a gradual increase in the number of women who have enrolled.

“The industry is more and more realizing that diversity is a plus, not a minus,” Holyoke said. “And that women tend to be meticulous, which in this industry, meticulous is where it’s about.  You have to get it right because lives are at stake.”

Hernandez said being one of a few girls in a program of mostly men and some older men, has challenges. Sometimes the guys question whether she is getting attention from the teacher or a job because she is female. Those types of comments used to bother Hernandez, but she has learned to brush it off.

“It does build a better character, a stronger character, but it’s nothing that should bring you down, not at all, because it is a great industry to work in,” she said.

The school opened in 1973 and appeals to students launching their careers or making a career shift. Classroom instruction is mixed with hands-on experience in a hangar at the site so students can practice on propeller aircraft, helicopters and jets, including a retired Learjet 24 donated by Clay Lacy Aviation.

Clay Lacy, a private jet charter and aircraft management and maintenance provider with a repair station at the Van Nuys Airport, has donated more than $10,000 in scholarships to reduce tuition costs for more than 100 students who attend the Aviation Center. Tuition for full-time students is $1,200 a year.

Scott Cutshall, Clay Lacy’s vice president of brand development, said the company started the scholarship program in 2015 to give back to the community.

“We just feel fortunate to have the school here, so that’s one of the big reasons why we want to support it,” Cutshall said.

Clay Lacy also benefits from having students graduate from the program. The company employs several of the school’s alumni.

“This is here and this is a very unique program,” Cutshall said. “This doesn’t exist, I don’t think, at any other airport that I’m aware of in California where it’s run by a local school district.”

The industry faces a shortage of workers because much of the workforce — 30 percent — is retiring or near retirement, according to the Aviation Technician Education Council.

“We do need more mechanics in our industry, there’s a massive shortage right now,” Cutshall said.

Clay Lacy has 15 open positions for aircraft mechanics and companies all over the industry are hiring, Cutshall said.

Programs like the Aviation Center are unique and many similar programs throughout Southern California have shut down, Ed Mirzakhanian, Clay Lacy’s vice president of maintenance and business development, said.

“For a long time there wasn’t a focus of schools like this to bring a lot of new students through,” Cutshall said.

A starting salary is about $30/hour and there are opportunities to advance. Top pay for technicians is $38 to $42/hour.

Hernandez has a hectic schedule to get work experience while attending school. She has 17-hour days Monday through Friday. She attends school during the day and works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena in the evenings. She gets about four hours of sleep each night, she said.

Classmate Sugun Ratti, 21, of Northridge, also works and attends the school. She is a technician apprentice at JetWorx at the Van Nuys Airport.

Ratti is planning to go to air traffic control school.

“Once I started working, it just shows you how many opportunities there are, you don’t just want to be a mechanic,” she said.

Hernandez’s ultimate goal is to work in maintenance control in the offices in the maintenance department, but she wants to get experience on the ground first.

“It’s amazing to be a woman and being able to support yourself, always, no matter what you do,” she said.

Original article can be found here ➤


  1. Diversity, eh? How about letting the education/job/compensation chips fall where they may, and get the government out of cultural processes?

  2. Pilots, mechanics and air crew have worked since the beginning of commercial aviation for ridiculously low wages, mostly because we're conservative by nature, and gullible as a result. Try buying a little house in bay area California on $30/hr after all that hard work and money you expended to earn your A&P - and then figure out that the manager at McDondald's is making only slightly less than you, if not more - while not being responsible for the lives of crew and passengers with every burger he flips.

    No one should start a career in aviation today unless she's prepared to shoulder unimaginable civil liability without a paycheck to pay for appropriate insurance, and maybe a house to live in, and perhaps a pizza once or twice a month. This "career" is a desert.

    Probably make more money driving for Uber.

  3. Correct on the litigation. It is out of control- talk about PTSD.

    Mechanics will always be named in the suit regardless of the circumstances. Better off working on cars and boats- making more money and able to sleep at night.

  4. Not sure if it's still true, but a few years ago kids were coming out of the aircraft mechanic schools and going to work for auto shops at a higher pay rate.

  5. Yep - what's the point - we should just complain, not make a difference, tell the kids they are wasting their time and effort - just give up. Maybe just try to get hooked on drugs or something.

  6. Folks, you cannot live in the Bay Area SFO/SJC and work in the airline industry unless you are single, established and a captain at legacy airline. Rent in the south bay is $3,300.00 per month for a 1,100 sq ft townhome. 1,450 sq ft homes are selling for 1.2 mil. You can thank Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc… for that. Starting wage for coders here = 130 – 150K annually.

  7. Well, we have made it so that everyone can fly - so of course the pay will be low for pilots and mechanics. What would one expect.

  8. "...Maybe just try to get hooked on drugs or something..."

    Not saying don't try, just saying: Try something else. Aviation currently won't pay your rent. And it's only going to get worse as the airlines go to single pilot flight decks, and the drones start flying ag, police and package delivery. Oh... that reminds me: Don't go to work as a long haul truck driver, or for Fedex, UPS or Amazon, or as a container ship captain. Automation is here, and all those jobs will disappear within our lifetimes.

    Okay, forget it. It probably does make more sense to just get hooked on drugs. If you take enough Oxy, you maybe won't notice that you live in a cardboard box with nothing to eat.

    I guess maybe you could become a prostitute for the drones? Do drones need prostitutes, or do they have a drone for that, too?

  9. Airline pilot, Flight attendant = fantastic home life, never see your kids, divorce, freedom. Sure, live your dream. What a waste of time.

  10. I'll bet not a single commenter here ever worked in aviation. Most I knew weren't in it for the money. Been that way since Wilbur and Orville. I stayed in 32 years turning wrenches and enjoyed every second. And retired at 56. But I would have never done it at the left coast, let alone anything else there regardless of the money.

  11. Wilbur and Orville made quite a fortune for themselves; they certainly were "in it for the money." And being able to retire at 56, I'd say you were in it for the money, too. You did well. Those days are gone. I'd say more, but I have to go "service" the drones.

  12. Sure was my friend; corporate pilot, 121 airline capt. and CFI. Teaching was a blast. Home every night. The other positions sucked. Got out, got a real job and life is good! C-ya.

  13. Diversity, much like offshoring, is all about lower wages. You have to be inculcated from an early age to sincerely believe that it's a benefit. When morality is removed from economics, the family wage goes with it.