Ricky Flores is hoping he may have inspired a few young people to look to the sky for future paychecks and fill a growing hole in a critical labor market.
Flores recently worked with Paulding County officials to organize the FAA Aviation Career Education Academy for eighth- through 12th-grade students June 10 to 14 at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport.
The event included information on available careers which included jobs paying in the upper five figures straight out of college, he said.
Airport director Terry Tibbitts said the Academy put the spotlight on aviation maintenance and other areas of the growing industry.
“The aviation industry is booming and suffering from a lack of workers,” Tibbitts said. “It’s a critical time.”
Flores works as a principal maintenance inspector in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Atlanta Flight Standards District Office.
He said private companies and public agencies could face “a shortage of maintenance being performed on aircraft that’s going to greatly impact our aviation community.”
“With our shortage that we’re experiencing, it’s getting to the point where we could be in desperate need,” he said.
The FAA began placing a stronger emphasis on promoting maintenance careers in recent years as it became apparent not enough younger workers were available to fill both newly created jobs and existing positions as older workers retired, he said.
State and local government officials have highlighted maintenance jobs’ starting pay of around $70,000 after completion of training programs such as the one to be included in Chattahoochee Tech's new $35 million facility at Paulding's airport.
The FAA academy featured presentations and information about commercial, general and military aviation opportunities; aviation maintenance; pilot training; unmanned aerial vehicles; aircraft construction and engineering; aviation history; and aviation schools.
Most of the 55 student participants in the weeklong event came from Paulding County with others coming from Cobb, Polk, Fulton and Forsyth counties, Flores said.
Delta Airlines provided hands-on training in commercial aircraft maintenance wiring and welding; while Atlanta Aerospace Composites taught about repair of aircraft composite bodies.
Georgia State Patrol displayed a helicopter used for crime surveillance work. Hiram-based Rotorworks showed a helicopter it uses to inspect power lines.
The Army Aviation Heritage Foundation in Hampton displayed L-19 Bird Dog, Huey UH-1 and Cobra AH-1 military helicopters; and the Museum of Flight in Rome displayed T-38 military jets, according to Flores and an agenda from the event.
Atlanta-area aviation legend Pat Epps, who built Epps Aviation into a major regional fixed-base operator, was among the speakers.
Epps discussed his part in leading an 11-year effort to recover a Lockheed P-38 Lightning military aircraft which had been buried 265 feet below the Greenland ice cap after a forced landing during World War II in 1942.
Academy participants also heard presentations from area private and public aviation professionals about drones, cockpit instrumentation, and careers in military aviation.
Tibbitts said the airport did not use anything from its budget, other than allowing the use of senior administrative assistant Yolanda Newell to help Flores organize it.
“There was just an amazing depth and breadth of aviation knowledge,” Tibbitts said.
Local businesses such as Sam’s Club, Holt Engineering, Croy Engineering and StandardAero provided financial and in-kind donations to make up the academy’s $10,000 budget, he said.
Flores, a Paulding resident, said agency officials “really want to be involved in youth outreach.”
The FAA has used such programs in the past to encourage young people to consider aviation careers. However, the agency in recent years began asking its inspectors to organize educational events for its STEM Aviation and Space Education program, he said.
School systems at all levels began emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in recent years because of the way its four educational areas interconnect in today’s economy.
Flores said he has found many school systems offer STEM programs without including classes related to aviation.
“I met parents who said they never knew about these careers,” he said.
Flores, a veteran of decades with the Navy and FAA, said he has seen many changes in the aviation industry, including the many career opportunities created in recent years.
He said other jobs are available in addition to aircraft maintenance, such as air traffic controllers and aircraft parts engineering and manufacturing.