Course change: CT’s only airplane mechanics’ schools stay open

A student works on a plane at CT Aero Tech in Hartford.

CT Vocational Technical High School

A student works on a plane at CT Aero Tech in Hartford.

The State Department of Education has reversed its previous decision to stop enrolling new students in the only two schools in Connecticut that train airplane mechanics.

“We recognize the value in our aviation schools providing skilled workers ready to take jobs in Connecticut’s thriving aviation industry. We are in the process of exploring potential partnership options for the future,” said Abbe Smith, a spokesman for the education department.

The schools – run by the state’s Vocational Technical High School System – upset many in the aviation industry in July with a surprise announcement that budget pressures were forcing the state to close the schools, located in Hartford and Stratford.

There is a nationwide shortage of these skilled mechanics, warned a report commissioned last year by The Aeronautical Repair Station Association and the Aviation Technician Education Council.

The Connecticut Department of Labor estimates that each year the two Connecticut schools – CT Aero Tech in Hartford and the Stratford School for Aviation Maintenance Technicians – graduate 28 people, while it projects businesses in the state are looking to fill 111 openings. In Connecticut, commercial and private airports and businesses that service planes for shipping companies all are dependent on this pipeline.

The cancellation of an incoming freshman class and then a last-minute reversal in that decision did impact enrollment.

Stratford School of Aviation originally recruited 15 students; six students are attending. CT Aero Tech in Hartford had recruited 18 students, and 14 are attending.

The cut that had been planned for the aviation program was just one of many that have been announced to cope with $7.8 million in state budget cuts.

Earlier this summer, the governor’s budget office announced that several adult education programs at five schools would be closing, and 13 state employees would be laid off as a result.

These programs include the medical assistant program at Platt Technical High School in Milford (which enrolls 18 students each year), the dental assistant programs at Prince Tech in Hartford and Windham Technical High School (40 students), the certified nursing assistant program at Whitney Technical High School in Hamden (80 students), the surgical technologist programs at Prince and Whitney Technical High Schools (30 students); and the licensed practical nurse program at Vinal Technical High School in Middletown.

All of these skills are in high demand.

The labor department reports that while 80 people earn a medical assistant certificate each year, employers are looking to fill 340 positions. There are 294 people who become certified nursing assistants while business are looking to fill 547 positions.

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About Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline won two first prizes from the national Education Writers Association for her work in 2012 – one in beat reporting for her overall education coverage, and the other in investigative reporting on a series of stories revealing questionable monetary and personnel actions taken by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. In 2016, she was a finalist in the EWA competition for single-topic coverage for her reporting on how schools are funded in Connecticut. Before coming to The Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. She has also worked for Congressional Quarterly and the Toledo Free Press. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College. She and her husband, son and two dogs live in Hartford.