Aerospace flying high in North Idaho

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  • Photos by JASON BARENBOIM/Working Nation Aerospace technology students gain hands-on experience at the North Idaho College Aerospace Center in Hayden.

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    Pat O’Halloran, director of the North Idaho College Aerospace Center.

  • Photos by JASON BARENBOIM/Working Nation Aerospace technology students gain hands-on experience at the North Idaho College Aerospace Center in Hayden.

  • 1

    Pat O’Halloran, director of the North Idaho College Aerospace Center.

Searching for a career pathway to a hot job in North Idaho? Look to the skies.

“Aerospace is a rising industry,” said Pat O’Halloran, director of North Idaho College’s Aerospace Center in Hayden. “It’s replacing agriculture jobs.”

North Idaho is the epicenter of aerospace development in a state where the industry grew by nearly 40 percent over the last 20 years, according to the Idaho Department of Commerce.

The growth is expected to continue.

Sam Wolkenhauer, North Idaho’s regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, said jobs in the region’s aerospace manufacturing industry are expected to expand by 16 percent by 2026.

“For the industry overall, current demand for new commercial aircraft is unprecedented,” O’Halloran said.

And it takes skilled, trained technicians to build and maintain those aircraft, with a growing demand for more workers to fill aviation jobs.

The 2019 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook report estimates the industry will need 769,000 new aircraft maintenance technicians over the next 20 years.

“The demand will stem from a mix of fleet growth, retirements, and attrition,” said the Boeing report. “…As several hundred thousand pilots and technicians reach retirement age over the next decade, educational outreach and career pathway programs will be essential to inspiring and recruiting the next generation of personnel.”

O’Halloran said that since 2015, when North Idaho College added a Federal Aviation Administration-certified aircraft maintenance training program to its offerings at the college’s aerospace center at the Coeur d’Alene Airport in Hayden, the center has received an increasing number of calls from businesses in need of technicians.

Students in NIC’s aerospace programs receive the training needed to qualify for the FAA’s airframe mechanics examination. They have the ability to earn various certificates along the way, and if they choose, they can continue on to earn an associate’s degree.

Other manufacturing skills are in demand by the aerospace industry, which means students learn many skills that are appealing to many manufacturers, O’Halloran said.

For example, a student will learn to work with composites, like carbon fiber and fiberglass, and can earn a composite technician certificate within a year.

“And there are a lot of employers around here who would love to hire them,” he said.

Students are also eligible for a certificate in Computer Numeric Control Machining. CNC mill operators work with high-precision machines that mill, plane, groove or profile metal or plastic parts.

“This expands job opportunities for them,” O’Halloran said.

He said the aerospace industry offers competitive wages that increase with the amount of training and certifications a technician earns.

An NIC student with an associate’s degree from the college’s aerospace program and an FAA endorsement can make up to $20 per hour to start, O’Halloran said.

A recent graduate who went to work for a local company, continued his training to earn an additional FAA endorsement, and is now making more than $30 per hour.

The Idaho Technology Council noted, in its 2018 Knowledge Report that North Idaho is home to a “dynamic group of aerospace manufacturers.”

The council said: “Northern Idaho’s vibrant aerospace sector has helped support other advanced manufacturing industries, including plastics manufacturers that support hundreds of employees producing advanced thermoplastic composites.”

That includes employers like Empire Aerospace at the Coeur d’Alene Airport and Quest Aircraft in Sandpoint, along with many component manufacturers who produce products ranging from seaplane floats to electronics.

For more information about North Idaho College’s aerospace programs, visit nic.edu.

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