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HUNTINGTON — Aviation and academic enthusiasts alike came together to watch the new Aviation Maintenance Training program take flight during a groundbreaking ceremony Friday.

The AMT program has been in the making for a few years and will be available for students in spring 2022, Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert said. He said the program will teach West Virginians how to properly care for aircraft and will hopefully attract aerospace companies in the future.

“You are all witnesses to a turning point to the educational and economic future of this region,” Gilbert said. “Metaphorically, I will say that Mountwest and Marshall are flying in new airspace here. The joint program is the first of its kind, and we hope it will serve as a model to other institutions in the state.”

This is a joint program between Marshall University and Mountwest Community and Technical College, and will give students right out of high school an opportunity to get a certification in aviation maintenance or complete general education courses through Mountwest in order to receive an associate degree following the certification of the program from the Federal Aviation Administration.

In collaboration with the Huntington Tri-State Airport, the Robert C. Byrd Institute, Delta Airlines and more, Gilbert said he expects great successes to come from the AMT program.

Airport Director Brent Brown said he is excited to be able to have an AMT program in the Tri-State because it gives people a chance to learn and later work locally instead of having to go to other states to find jobs in aviation maintenance.

“We are going to go out there and do all that we can to promote this program and promote this airport and see what we can do to provide opportunities for the students graduating out of this program to have jobs right here at home,” Brown said. “We don’t want to see them leaving to Atlanta and Charlotte and these other places — we want them to stay right here in the Tri-State region.”

Brown said there are 95 acres of flat land at the airport and he hopes the maintenance program provides chances for expansion and further development of the land.

Renovations of an existing hangar and an armory will take place in preparation for the AMT program, with approximately $2.7 million being used to create classroom and laboratory spaces for future students.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice attended the ceremony and discussed the 1970 Marshall University plane crash that devastated the area, and how in growing this program, it is as if the region is rising from the ashes and paying tribute to the 75 lives lost.

Justice also said the AMT program can lead to expansion in the aviation field in West Virginia.

“What we’re doing right here, right now, is we’re embarking on putting West Virginia on the map as a place where aviation-related industries can grow,” he said.

Gilbert said they have received two planes to use for the program and they plan to add seven more over the next five years. There was also a small plane donated by Marshall alumnus Daniel Ward, which Gilbert said will be taken apart and put back together by students for years.

Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., was also in attendance at the groundbreaking and discussed how Boeing projects the need for nearly 770,000 workers in aviation maintenance for the next generation. She said the AMT program will be a combination of people who want business growth in the area and a skilled workforce.

“West Virginia’s next generation of aviation workers will have access to a unique, cross-institutional program. We are working together to prepare our next generation for the jobs,” Miller said. “With any growing business, we need a pro-business environment and a skilled workforce to make it work. This program will ensure that West Virginia not only has that pro-business environment, but the world-class workforce ready to serve a growing industry, too.”

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