By Laura Camper / [email protected]
His interest in aviation was sparked when he went to an air show with his son a few years ago.
So they started going to more air shows. Then in June, Jon Morris, 37, quit his job at a local hospital and enrolled in a local training course to become an avionics technician.
“I was looking for something different. I’ve always been interested in mechanical things; But I didn’t want to work on cars,” Morris said.
On Wednesday, he and two other trainees were working in the Oasis Aviation Maintenance hangar on a tire on one of the planes that needed repairs.
Oasis Aviation Maintenance services and upgrades old, mostly privately owned aircraft to the new electronics now available. The planes come from all over the country. Planes from Minnesota, Tennessee and Pennsylvania were in the hangar on Wednesday. The oldest was a 1957 model.
“Many of the upgrades we make allow the pilot to fly in all weather conditions,” said Steven Olive, owner of the company. “You can fly in the clouds. You can fly above the clouds.”
You add autopilot; They’re basically adding technology that’s been available in big jets for a while and is now making it to the small planes, he said.
In 2020 he added a school, Learn Avionics LLC, to his company.
“Really, this species grew out of a need to find people, collaborators,” Olive said.
Olive, a retired US Air Force Colonel, started his business in 2011 flying helicopters to conduct aerial mapping. Out of necessity, he maintained his own fleet and was soon asked to service other people’s planes. His business was growing and he needed well-trained employees. Unfortunately, very few avionics programs are offered, and most of them don’t have the hands-on training that it offers, Olive said.
In 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the creation of avionics training programs, he said. So he decided that he would do that. The building next to him has already been set up as a school by another company that went out of business during the pandemic, Olive said. So he took it.
His training school started in 2020 with online and weekend courses. In March 2021, the school added the 12-month avionics technician apprenticeship program. More recently, the school has expanded the curriculum to include airframe and engine mechanics, aircraft body and engine work.
The program is approved by the Department of Labor, which means it must meet certain qualifications, he said. That includes paying trainees and tracking their progress, Olive said.
“The training falls under my maintenance and avionics company because the Department of Labor needs a sponsor for the trainees,” Olive said. “So I’m the employer sponsor.”
Three trainees have completed the program, seven are currently in the program. The first graduate, James Hertig, is now the school’s head instructor.
Hertig was a US Navy instructor, submarine electrician.
“U-boats are basically underwater aircraft,” Hertig said. “They have wings and everything.”
When Hertig left the military, he didn’t want a desk job. He wanted a job that was as interesting as working on a submarine, and when he heard about Learning Aviation he decided to try airplanes.
“I come from an engineering background, and airplanes are very much an engineering thing, everything from the way they fly — airlock engineering — to how the computers work — electrical engineering,” Hertig said.
He also thinks he wants to get his pilot’s license at some point, Hertig said.
Chris Vallery, 25, a trainee in the two-year program, is thinking about the same thing. Vallery used to work as a construction equipment field technician, but as his family was in the aviation industry, he was always around in the industry. He wanted to try airplanes. He likes the work and being able to fly on the planes for test flights to make sure all the new equipment is working.
“We have a pilot that shows up, so he flies and we’re like co-pilots,” Vallery said. “We look at the instruments while he flies. It’s pretty cool.”
The school is limited by the small staff and Olive’s payroll as he pays all the apprentices. They can currently take on about three apprentices in January and three in June. But he has applied for a grant to expand the program.
“I can’t produce (engineers and mechanics) fast enough,” Olive said.
He began checking off companies that would contact him to see if he had technicians ready to graduate, including a company in Naples, Florida and companies in Savannah, Georgia and Atlanta. A prospective graduate is now completing his final few months of training in Miami, where he was hired, Olive said. Once they complete the classroom portion — the first five weeks of the program — and pass their aircraft electronics technician certification exam, trainees can complete the apprenticeship at another company, he said.
“It’s really a good introduction to everything aviation-related,” Hertig said of the program. “Whether you want to be a pilot but aren’t quite there yet, or want to be involved in anything related to aviation, this is a good first step.”