By Gideon Garcia
Aviation touches nearly all aspects of life in Alaska. It’s a vital part of our state’s economy, serving the 82% of Alaska communities that are not connected by the contiguous road system. At the University of Alaska Anchorage, the Aviation Technology Division (ATD) supports the entire state’s aviation workforce and industry with programs that provide a unique education beyond just basic training and a certificate.
With a history dating to the mid-1960s, the ATD offers Alaska’s most complete and modern programs in piloting, air traffic control, aviation maintenance, and aviation management with related specializations. A key strength of these programs, a cornerstone of the Community and Technical College, is that they help keep Alaskans in Alaska by providing relevant career opportunities right here at home. As such, ATD graduates can be found in high-paying leadership positions throughout the state.
From 18-year-olds preparing to enter college after high school to mid-career professionals looking for a change, the programs attract a diverse range of students. ATD programs also attract many out-of-state students to UAA with quality education offered nowhere else in the nation. For example, the air traffic control program, celebrating its 50th year, gives students the chance to learn with unique, cutting-edge simulation technology. These students bring out-of-state tuition that supports the university and community while garnering national recognition for UAA.
A recent report by Boeing highlighted worldwide industry demands for 600,000 pilots and aircraft mechanics during the next 20 years. Before the pandemic Alaska faced an industry gap of more than 300 pilots. Though the aviation industry, like nearly all others, is facing challenges related to COVID-19, there is no doubt that aviation will remain integral in connecting the 49th state and the time is right to prepare for post-pandemic success.
While other providers in Alaska offer training, UAA’s programs provide an education that expands knowledge and enhances career opportunities, imparting an understanding of the interconnectedness between specializations. For example, the aviation administration program instructs students on how to support the aviation industry so it is as safe and profitable as possible, and the aviation maintenance technology program emphasizes how maintenance impacts the overall safety, operation and economics of aircraft.
The professional piloting program not only teaches students how to fly but is holistic in its coverage of the business of aviation, safety, regulations, and private and commercial operations. Of particular note is UAA’s status as Alaska’s sole provider of a special authorization for the FAA Restricted Airline Transport Pilot (R-ATP) certificate.
This authorization provides graduates a fast track to careers with a commercial airline. Normally a pilot must accumulate 1,500 hours of flight time before being eligible to take the Airline Transport Pilot certification test. Completing UAA’s approved curriculum and flight training enables students to be eligible for the R-ATP test at 1,250 hours if they have completed the associate degree and 1,000 hours if they have completed the bachelor’s degree. This means a graduate will spend less money and time in the long run to qualify for an airline pilot position.
The difference between a holistic education versus basic training distinguishes UAA graduates as possessing increased standards of quality and safety. Graduates progress from entry-level practitioners to become supervisors, managers and executives who support the industry with a deeper understanding of aviation. These are long-term employees who will grow with the industry, and with Alaska.
There is no question aviation is critical to Alaska’s success. Let’s continue to invest in the future of aviation in our state. UAA’s aviation programs are doing just that right here on the Last Frontier.
Gideon Garcia is the vice president and general manager of Northern Air Cargo LLC.