NEW IBERIA — South Louisiana Community College announced plans Wednesday to offer helicopter pilot training as the first step in creating a new International School of Aviation Excellence, expanding an existing aircraft maintenance program in the hopes of meeting the local demand for a broad range of aviation workers.
The pilot training will take place at an 11,250-square-foot facility near the Acadiana Regional Airport in New Iberia that SLCC bought from private pilot instruction company Bristow Academy.
SLCC Chancellor Natalie Harder said the need for aviation workers — including pilots, mechanics and electronics technicians — is on the rise across the nation and in Acadiana in particular.
The region is home to helicopter personnel transporters PHI, Era Helicopters and Bristow Group, as well as a new Bell Helicopter assembly plant taking shape at the Lafayette Regional Airport and AvEx, a company at Acadiana Regional Airport that paints aircraft for several commercial and cargo carriers.
“Acadiana is more and more becoming an aviation hub,” said Iberia Industrial Development Foundation President and CEO Mike Tarantino.
The first students in SLCC’s pilot training program are expected to enroll this summer.
Plans also call for expanding SLCC’s existing Aviation Maintenance Technology program to teach aviation electronics and skills needed for working with new composite construction materials and specialized paints and coatings.
SLCC’s current aviation program is capped at about 30 students a year.
“I know we will grow the program, because we have a waiting list,” Harder said.
While the aviation sector has been growing in the region, she said, many of the companies rely heavily on out-of-state applicants to fill jobs because it’s hard to find enough local workers with specialized training in the field.
“The piece that has been missing in our state and in our region is workforce development,” she said.
Developing robust aviation training opportunities in Acadiana has been identified as a key priority by the regional economic development group One Acadiana.