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Aviation Industry Significant Part Of W.Va. Economy

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Courtesy photo
Employees at the Pratt and Whitney facility in Bridgeport, West Virginia examine a jet engine to make repairs.

Twenty businesses in West Virginia provide materials, make airplane parts or service engines and airframes for the aviation industry and the state exports more than $150 million of airplane parts every year. 

One of the bigger players is Pratt and Whitney in Bridgeport. Pratt and Whitney is a multinational corporation that manufactures jet engines for civilian and corporate jets. The West Virginia facility, though, services older engines. 

“Engines will come in and we’ll bring them in, disassemble them all the way down to the nuts and bolts,” said Pratt and Whitney’s general manager Tim Tucker. “We go through them, clean’em, inspect them, repair anything that's deviating and then bring it back and build it all back up together, right here.”

Richard Aboulafia studies trends in the aviation industry for the Teal Group. He says West Virginia’s work in servicing older aircraft engines may give it an economic edge over the rest of the country. 

“The major centers primarily do new builds. And that's going to be a bit more volatile, you know, than fleet sustainment. So that might provide a level of insulation for the West Virginia facilities,” he said. 

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Credit Eric Douglas / WVPB
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WVPB
A jet engine ready to be disassembled at Engine Management Specialists in Bridgeport, West Virginia. The engine will be complete taken apart for its usable parts.

Engine Management Specialists (EMS) in Bridgeport fills a unique niche. The company receives mostly Pratt and Whitney engines that have been taken out of service for one reason or another and completely disassembles them. EMS removes the parts that have a usable service life and sells them back to Pratt and Whitney to return other engines to flight. 

The company’s owner, Tim Critchfield said the value in an engine could range anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 depending on the engine.

According to the latest jobs report from Workforce West Virginia, there are about 3,600 West Virginians employed in the aviation industry. For West Virginia Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch it is a start on diversifying the state’s economy. 

“It's critical to our future. We've been an energy state. Coal’s been important to us, it is still important, and I think will remain important, but what we're trying to do is construct an economy around some of these other industries,” he said.  

According to Gaunch, the aviation industry pays about $24 million in taxes to the state and each job in the industry has an average salary of $78,000. 

Despite these earnings, there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the positions. Ruben Segura, the deputy general manager at Pratt and Whitney’s Bridgeport facility, said the company is working directly with high schools and universities and colleges to train workers. 

“We're going to have to have that resource available to us. We want to continue to grow,” he said. 

To work in the aviation manufacturing industry in West Virginia, workers typically need to go through an Airframe and Powerplant course at a technical college or university. Next fall, Marshall University will launch a new associate’s degree program with MountWest Community and Technical College to certify technicians.

Updated August 10, 2020: 

West Virginia Department of Education Office of Career & Technical Education (CTE) Aerospace and Aviation Technology Programs are currently offered in high schools in nine different counties across WV.

Pierpont Community and Technical College, Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center: The only FAA certified Part 147 school offering an Associate Degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology that provides the FAA Airframe and Powerplant certification. Graduates of this program may seek direct employment as aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs).  Now have an articulation agreement with Southern Illinois University enabling students to study online for their bachelor degree in Aviation Maintenance Management. 

Fairmont State University: Offers a variety of aviation related bachelor’s degrees and is West Virginia’s only Part 141 FAA certified school offering programs in Aviation Administration & Professional Flight.

WVU Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: WVU offers programs in mechanical and aerospace engineering for students to earn bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. At the undergraduate level, students also have the option to dual major in both programs.

NASA Teacher & Student Training: The Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont WV is home of NASA’s IV&V Education Programs. These programs are offered to all WV educators and is preparing new K-12 teachers by providing access to NASA learning materials and educator professional development via its Educator Resource Center (ERC).  

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