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WMU aviation student wins gold at nationals

August 7, 2013
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WMU aviation student wins gold at nationals
WMU College of Aviation student Andrew Kincaid bites into the gold medal he won for aviation maintenance at the 2013 SkillsUSA Championship. Courtesy WMU

Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation is going to be talking about Andrew Kincaid with pride for years to come.

Kincaid, a senior from Battle Creek studying aviation maintenance technology, was a hit at the recent 2013 SkillsUSA Championship, a week long national competition for colleges, held this year in Kansas City, Mo.

Kincaid had 12 tasks to perform, going head to head against other competitors in timed matches that required him to show off his talents in several categories: leadership, electronics, technical drafting, medical assisting, precision machining and culinary arts.

When the week was finished, Kincaid was named one of six national contenders for his skill set in the category of post-secondary aviation maintenance technology — and one of only two competitors in his field to win gold honors.

He is the first WMU student to participate in the national competition.

“I’m not surprised he won. He’s a talented young man,” said Raymond Thompson, associate dean of WMU’s College of Aviation. “This is our first time there, so we didn’t have any experience with how it ran. We were going against programs that had competed for a number of years. I’m not surprised Andrew won, but I am surprised we won nationals in only our first time.”

Five-month training

Kincaid worked hard to prepare for SkillsUSA, practicing weekly for about five months with university advisors Jeremy Hierholzer, Gail Rouscher and Terry Michmerhuizen, Thompson said.

When Kincaid returned victorious, he told them his training with the faculty was actually more difficult than the event, Thompson said.

WMU’s aviation college, with enrollment usually at about 700 to 750 students, offers three majors: aviation flight science, aviation management and operations and aviation maintenance technology, said Sharon VanDyken, the aviation program’s director of academic advising.

Hiring trend

Aviation maintenance technology, Kincaid’s major, seems to be a growing field, VanDyken said.

When the pilots do well, maintenance does three times as well, she said, and right now, pilots are doing well.

“I know right now for our pilots it’s a very cyclical industry, and right now, the job outlook is looking real good,” VanDyken said. “For every pilot there’s usually two or three people needed for maintenance.

“Some of it is also pilot retirement,” she added. “We can tell, because we lose our flight instructors because they get hired. That’s a sign for us that the industry is doing well.”

Aviation maintenance shortage

The industry might be hiring, but not soon enough, Thompson said.

The aviation industry could see significant labor shortages in maintenance technology in upcoming years, unless more workers enter the maintenance technology field.

WMU produces 30 graduates a year in the maintenance technology program, but more are needed, he said, especially on a national scale.

“With the maintenance program, we’re running at 80 to 85 percent placement rate right out of the box that we know of,” Thompson said. “I don’t have the data, but I believe at least half are going out of state.

“The industry is picking up, and we’re starting to see hiring increasing over the country,” he added.

Thompson said the aviation industry needs about 6,500 maintenance personal in North America every year to replace people retiring and airline growth.

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