When people at Ontario International Airport and Ontario City Hall noticed that aviation jobs — including airline pilots — were falling behind demand for air travel, they contacted Mount San Antonio College.
But instead of asking the school for more enrollments in the accredited aviation program, they did something that had never been done before. They took the college to the airport.
A new class has started, Careers in Aviation or AERO 98 will be taught at the airport grounds on Saturday mornings through June. The class introduces students to aviation careers and later leads students to more advanced classes on the Mt. SAC campus in Walnut and at Brackett Field Airport in La Verne. The college is one of two in the state with certified Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative programs.
mt. SAC instructors use a conference room at the Ontario International Airport Authority headquarters on Avion Drive for classroom learning. They also teach students in the field at ONT locations, including: Guardian Jet Center, a private charter service; commercial airlines at passenger terminals and ramps; air freight companies such as Fed-Ex and the airport fire service. All offer students a hands-on learning experience, instructors said.
“It (ONT) is a great field lab to show students what’s going on,” said Mike Tracey, one of the classroom instructors. “When they get the chance to walk around a corporate jet (at Guardian), their eyes pop wide. When they come out on the tarmac and hear a 737 take off, they get really excited.”
Ontario City Council member Debra Dorst-Porada, along with Alan Wapner, also on the City Council and President of the OIAA, helped create the new class, the first-ever class at the airport.
“We thought it would be fun to hold them at the airport; it could increase participation’, says Dorst-Porada.
“Our (passenger) numbers are starting to rise at the airport,” she said. “Yet there are shortages of pilots, shortages of mechanics and shortages of TSA people. We didn’t have enough people to fill those vacancies.”
Tracey, an Upland native who worked in the airline industry before becoming a college instructor, also teaches the history and economics of the airline industry. He has heard that airline workforces have declined, in part due to a wave of retirements during the COVD-19 pandemic, he said.
“There is definitely a shortage of pilots,” Tracey said. “The airlines have to shorten their schedules because they don’t have enough flight attendants to man the planes. Meanwhile, travel is growing. So people are needed to fill these jobs to serve the customers and run the airlines.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said earlier this week that half of all licensed pilots will reach retirement age within 15 years. Acute shortages were reported in December and January when many pilots and flight attendants called in sick due to the coronavirus omicron variant.
United, Delta and U.S. airlines are to add 1,000 pilots each by the end of this year or 2023, the Denver Post reported in December. Many airlines, including Delta and Southwest, are setting up their own pilot training programs to strengthen future staffing levels and provide more pilots on the bench, especially if new variants cause more illness among employees.
The FAA is hiring 1,020 air traffic controllers this summer, noted Robert Rogus, co-chair of the Aviation Division at Mount SAC. A shortage of air traffic controllers was a problem even before the pandemic.
The college’s program has been around since 1946 and is the largest of its kind in the state. In 2021, the program awarded 115 Associate of Science degrees in aviation, Rogus said.
Mount SAC’s aviation programs include training pilots and equipping students for ground-based jobs such as air traffic control, aircraft dispatch, aircraft maintenance and airport operations, he said. The AERO 98 class, currently with about 15 students, explains the different jobs at an airport.
“Aviation is one of those areas where the public only knows pilots,” Rogus said. “They may not realize there are all those other jobs — and these are $100,000+ jobs.” Aircraft mechanics earn $43-$46 per hour starting wages, he said.
Thirst-Porada helped arrange the Mt SAC to teach a class in the Chaffey College precinct. Chaffey has only one class in aviation, in aircraft mechanics. “We contacted Mount SAC because they have so many different aviation programs,” she said.
“We want our airport to be a success. We want them (graduates) to start working at Ontario Airport,” she said.