Baton Rouge Community College hopes to have a program to train airplane mechanics up and running by the fall, more than two years after originally planned.

The program would produce federally-certified mechanics but is still being reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration, said Mark Peeples, the program's director.

The Advocate reports ( the FAA review includes an examination of the proposed curriculum as well as site visits to make sure the facilities are adequate.

"We are just waiting for them to get around to us," Peeples said. "It's always frustrating, but it's just one of those things."

When the program was first announced in 2010, officials had hoped to have it going by spring 2011. Peeples, however, says getting the program started is contingent upon funding and the accreditation process, which has taken while. He said it takes from 18 months to 24 months "to get the equipment and go through the federal bureaucracy."

FAA officials have not indicated when the proposed program might get final approval, Peeples said.

When the program does start, it will have 25 students and take 18 months to complete, he said.

BRCC has rented a hangar at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport which will house the program until it can move into a new, $4 million facility. The Airport Commission earlier this month approved the issuance of $4 million in bonds to build the facility for BRCC. That request must now go before the Metro Council for approval.

BRCC's yearly rent on the new facility would repay the bonds over a 30-year period, airport officials said.

Meanwhile, BRCC is offering students a course in avionics —"all the electronic equipment inside the aircraft," Peeples said.

The course requires an increasing level of computer proficiency with the prevalence of "glass cockpits" that contain few analog instruments, he said.

Students taking the class start "touching airplanes immediately," Peeples said. "That gets them interested."

BRCC has acquired three airplanes for the two programs: a Cessna, a Beech with retractable landing gear, and a Boeing 727 that was donated by the New Orleans Hornets in 2011.

Ralph Hennessy, the airport's assistant director of aviation, said there is a market for certified mechanics.

He said a large part of the current workforce is getting close to retirement age. "It's going to create a void there," he said "There is a market there that's going to be growing in the future."

Sowela Technical Community College, Southern University at Shreveport and Louisiana Technical College in Lafayette also offer the certification.

Starting salary for an aircraft mechanic is in the low $40,000 range, Hennessy said.


Information from: The Advocate,