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Garcetti urges effort to save aviation mechanics school

The councilman says he will ask the city airport agency and L.A. Unified to explore ways to keep the program running at Van Nuys Airport.

December 29, 2012|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
  • Students work on a jet engine at the aviation mechanics school at the North Valley Occupational Center-Aviation Center at Van Nuys Airport.
Students work on a jet engine at the aviation mechanics school at the North… (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)

Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti on Friday called for measures to keep a highly regarded aviation mechanics school at Van Nuys Airport from shutting down or being moved to smaller facilities elsewhere.

Garcetti said he will request at the Jan. 4 council meeting that Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of Van Nuys, and the Los Angeles Unified School District explore ways to ensure the continued operation of the vocational school, which has produced thousands of mechanics during its 40-year history. Because of tight budgets, the district might close or relocate the school.

"The aviation training program at Van Nuys Airport is a critical asset for Los Angeles," Garcetti said. "I am deeply concerned that it could close."

The North Valley Occupational Center-Aviation Center, which opened in 1971, is located off Hayvenhurst Avenue in a hangar filled with more than a dozen aircraft, including helicopters and an old U.S. Air Force jet trainer.

The two-year course at one of the busiest general aviation airports in the world prepares students for certification by the Federal Aviation Administration and potential employment with aircraft maintenance shops, commercial carriers and aerospace firms.

Center officials say, however, that budget problems could force the LAUSD to close the school next year or move it to smaller facilities at another vocational center unless Los Angeles World Airports can lower the rent, which has been about $12,000 a month.

There have been some tentative discussions so far, but nothing formal has been proposed.

David Bowerman, an instructor at the center, called Garcetti's effort to get substantive talks going "a good idea." He said the school now has about 100 students per semester and provides technical training to those who don't want to go to college.

The situation has attracted the attention of the Van Nuys Airport Assn. and major organizations such as the National Business Aviation Assn., the National Air Transportation Assn. and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. All have urged LAUSD Supt. John Deasy to keep the school at the airport.

Garcetti, who cited an article about the aviation center's plight in The Times this week, said that saving the program would help address a growing shortage of entry-level mechanics in the aircraft industry and continue to offer Los Angeles area residents a career path if they are interested in aviation.

"In setting priorities during tough budget times, the school district must focus on education programs that lead directly to industries that are hiring now and in the future," Garcetti said. "A trained aviation workforce in Los Angeles is critical to the competitiveness of our airports, our aerospace industry, our trade sector and our overall economy."

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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