Alaskans rely heavily on air travel, as there are only a handful of highways in the entire state. As a pilot or airline manager, there are few things more frustrating than a broken airplane. That’s where the next generation of aircraft mechanics comes in, and many of them are being trained right here at the Fairbanks International Airport through the University of Alaska Community & Technical College (UAF CTC).
Students in the aviation maintenance program learn to fix airplanes of all shapes and sizes, from the smallest bush planes to the largest passenger jets.
“We train on everything from super cubs to 727s now—even helicopters and hot air balloons,” Kevin Alexander, Coordinator of Aviation Maintenance Technology, describes. He is also developing curriculum for the maintenance of unmanned aerial vehicles.
These students were smart to start their careers in a state with heavy reliance on dependable flight service. According to the Alaska Department of Labor, around 50 positions in aviation maintenance open up each year in Alaska and program graduates enjoy a 100% employment rate (plus, many airports still have to hire from out of state to make up the difference). In total, the program has produced as many as 800 graduates who now work in communities all over Alaska and the world.
“The demand for this program is through the roof,” Kevin says. “Every aircraft at the airport needs at least one major check a year. If there’s an airport in Alaska, there’s probably a UAF graduate working there.”
The aviation maintenance program is the oldest vocational program in the statewide university system, and is growing in leaps and bounds. Perhaps surprisingly, there is even greater demand for these services in the Interior and Arctic regions than near Anchorage or Juneau.
“There are more pilots north of the Alaska range than there are south,” Kevin points out. “There’s more focus coming back to the Fairbanks area and people are waking up to the fact that this is where it started.”
In just the past year, the program has purchased a new hangar on the East Ramp (finally returning to the airport after being off-base since 1972). Not long after, FedEx donated two jets to the University of Alaska, including one that made its final flight to Fairbanks in March of 2013 (the other is in Anchorage). The jet (built in 1977 and named “Joy” after the daughter of a FedEx employee) was steered down the runway by Nanook, the UAF mascot.
“It’s the only time the aircraft has ever been marshaled in by a bear,” Kevin jokes. “He actually brought the jet in and parked it.”
This jet will be used by students each year for systems familiarization and operation, to learn complex electrical wiring, advanced communications equipment, and sophisticated hydraulic systems. The acquisition was in direct response to an increased market demand for local aircraft mechanics who could work on larger vessels.
“We’ve got Alaska-based companies now with big jets and we’ve got to step up our game,” Kevin acknowledges.
Both the UAF hangar and the donated FedEx jet are visible across the tarmac from the main terminal.
Look across to the UAF hangar and FedEx jet from the southeast corner of the ground floor of the main terminal, in the waiting area to the right of the Era desk.