Sussex County grants airport lease for Delaware Tech to expand aviation program

by Dave on September 28, 2010

A year-old aviation maintenance education program at the Sussex County Airport will get a chance to spread its wings a bit more, thanks to support from Sussex County that will help provide new opportunities for residents and boost the local economy.

County Council, at its Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, meeting, approved a 30-year lease agreement with Delaware Technical & Community College to expand its aviation maintenance program at the County owned airport east of Georgetown. In lieu of monthly rent, the lease of a nearly 1-acre parcel off Rudder Lane would be for the college to build a new hangar, where students would learn how to work on airplane engines.

The expansion would be the second of a three-phase plan to grow a new aviation maintenance program at the college, which launched an airframe maintenance training program three years ago. The airframe maintenance program, the first of what will eventually be three disciplines under the overall aviation maintenance program, saw its first group of students complete their coursework earlier this month.

“This agreement continues Sussex County’s role in the shared mission to provide enhanced educational opportunities for Sussex Countians, and that will allow our residents to train here and better compete for jobs here in the aviation industry,” County Administrator David B. Baker said. “With DelTech’s plans to expand their program and our goal to attract more aviation-related businesses to our airpark and the community, this will further establish the Sussex County Airport as a manufacturing base and strengthen the overall economy.”

Sussex County Council, DelTech and PATS Aircraft LLC in October 2006 announced a partnership to create an aviation maintenance associate degree, in part to help guarantee a pool of qualified, skilled mechanics for local manufacturers. The airframe maintenance courses were the first to be developed, training students to become airframe mechanics who service all parts of an airplane, with the exception of the engine, propeller and instruments. No such program existed in Delaware prior to the course’s creation.

In 2007, Sussex County sowed the first seeds of that partnership, providing more than $1.2 million in funding to purchase and renovate a 9,750-square-foot hangar at the airport. The building was converted into classroom and practical laboratory space for the airframe maintenance training program now underway.

Dr. Ileana Smith, vice president and campus director for DelTech’s Owens Campus, said the power plant technology program is the next phase in the evolution of the aviation maintenance program, giving students the necessary skills to move on from working on the body of airplanes to maintaining the engines. The third and final phase will be to develop a program that would train students to work on the avionics, or instruments, of an aircraft.

“This would allow them to maintain a plane top to bottom, inside and out,” Dr. Smith said. “What the County is doing with its generous offer of this long-term lease is a critical green light for us to proceed.

“This County government has affirmed that the way to develop the economy, to develop jobs, is by developing people through education,” Dr. Smith added. “Sussex County is investing in the education of its workforce.”

DelTech officials say that with the lease in hand, work can now begin to raise the approximately $2 million in funding necessary to pay for the construction of a new hangar and equipment for the power plant technology program. Dr. Smith said it could take up to two years for the next phase of the aviation maintenance program to get off the ground.

release from Sussex County Government

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