Aviation boosts the Advantage Valley region's economy.
The aerospace/aviation sector is taking flight in Advantage Valley as the region creates more forward-thinking jobs for the up-and-coming workforce.
Companies in the Advantage Valley comprise a critical link in West Virginia’s aviation and aerospace supply chain that includes suppliers such as Constellium, Star Technologies, Level 1 Fasteners, Oerlikon Metco and Carbon Fiber Composites. These companies are producing brackets and precision clamping devices for jet engines, creating solutions to increase engine fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, and specialty fasteners, including studs, screws, nuts and bolts for the aerospace industry.
Advantage Valley is certified AEROready™ by American Electric Power based on the region’s extensive aviation infrastructure, skilled workforce, pro-business environment, access to university-level aerospace programs and a long list of other factors.
“We have a cluster of companies that support the aerospace/aviation sector, and that’s a growing aspect of our economy,” says Terrell Ellis, executive director of Advantage Valley, the economic development organization working to grow and create jobs in the nine-county region. “We have roughly two times the national average of workers in those clusters with the skills to produce component parts for the aviation sector,” Ellis says. “Aviation/ aerospace is a growing sector for us.”
Investing in Aviation
Marshall University is a critical player in the region’s push to grow the industry by training future pilots and technicians. In 2021, Marshall launched its Commercial Pilot: Fixed-Wing, a bachelor of science program. In 2022, the university joined Mountwest Community & Technical College to offer an aviation maintenance program at Huntington’s Tri-State Airport.
The Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) program allows students to earn degrees and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifications in airframe and powerplant maintenance.
According to industry leader Boeing, an estimated 30,000 new aviation technicians will be needed annually for the next 20 years. Starting wages for aviation mechanics range from $25 to $30 per hour, making those jobs desirable for workers.
Even before the first students enrolled, the AMT program proved to be a draw for investment. Thoroughbred Aviation, central Kentucky’s largest aviation maintenance and avionics provider, is expanding operations with the opening of a facility at Huntington Tri-State Airport. Company officials said the AMT program influenced its decision to locate repair operations in West Virginia.
Meeting the Demand for Pilots
Meanwhile, Marshall has also opened the Bill Noe Flight School at Yeager Airport in Charleston and recently welcomed its first multiengine plane, which will help prepare students for their next career move, whether that means airlines, military or business aviation.
“The aviation industry is going to continue to grow,” says Marshall professor and academic coordinator David Pittenger. “West Virginia is ripe for rapid expansion in this industry.”
Pittenger says recent news reports of pilot shortages emphasize the importance of investing in the flight school. Carriers have announced discontinuing service to several regional routes, including Toledo, Ohio; Ithaca and Islip, New York; and Dubuque, Iowa. Industry experts estimate that at least 80 new pilots are needed daily. Future graduates of Marshall’s flight school will be prepared to fill pilot shortages.
Thirty students enrolled in the inaugural class in the fall of 2021.
“The vast majority are from the immediate area,” says Pittenger. “When asked why they decided to become a pilot, they all say the same thing. Somewhere along the line, they developed a passion for flying.”
He says a female student told him when she flew for the first time as a child; she found the experience magical.
“After that, she always wanted to be a pilot,” he says.
When in full operation, the school will enroll more than 200 students and produce 50 commercial pilots annually.
“We designed the facilities to be expanded,” Pittenger says. “The flight school will be ready to meet the demand, serve students and advance the economy of this great state.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Advantage Valley region, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, West Virginia.