Alaska Airlines donates a plane to Portland Community College
Portland Community College now has a plane, estimated at a $650,000 value, for students to practice repairs and learn about aviation mechanics on, thanks to a donation from Alaska Airlines and its sister company Horizon Air.
A Q400 Bombardier flew into the Hillsboro Airport on Friday, Nov. 18, to applause from the large crowd who gathered to witness the historic retirement of the craft, which has flown passengers for about 20 years.
All the seats, except for the two in the cockpit, had been stripped out as it was flown for the last time.
Alaska Airlines is preparing to retire this line of aircraft.
But students in PCC's aviation sciences programs will still get hands-on training with the plane's engine, wings, rotors and more.
"It's important and critical for our students to have that hands-on experience so they can enter into the industry well-prepared," said Adrien Bennings, president of Portland Community College. "Because of this donation, students at PCC's aviation science and aviation maintenance technology programs will have access to modern engine and avionics technology as part of their educational experience at the college."
Aviation experts say these kinds of pipelines to careers in aviation are desperately needed.
"This fits right in with our goals of supporting the next generation of aviation and for … the training that's going to need to go into the folks who are going to work for our airlines or anywhere else in aviation," said Steve Nagy, operations director for the Port of Portland's regional airports.
According to projections from Boeing over the next 20 years, the airline industry is expecting shortages of both pilots and airline technicians that exceed 600,000 people. Already, the shortage is limiting how many flights airlines can make in a given day.
Training the next generation of skilled airline workers is a matter of survival for air travel.
"Training that next workforce, introducing them to something that they may never have thought or seen as an opportunity for them, this is a real benefit and a real opportunity for all of us," Nagy added.
It's not just PCC students who will get first-hand experience with this type of aircraft, however.
Students from the Hillsboro School District's Oregon Aerospace Careers for Everyone (O-ACE) program were also at the donation event. The classroom has a partnership with PCC, and interested high school students will get a chance to interact with the Q400 craft, too.
"It's definitely a great sight to see that we're able to actually have such a … great aircraft here," said Logan Hinojosa, an O-ACE student. "It's going to be amazing for the future of this program, and it will be great to actually work on it, if we're able to. We're able to actually get that look into the day-to-day operation of an aircraft like this."
Some of them even got to work on this very same type of plane during a summer internship program.
"During the summer internship with Horizon, five students with the O-ACE program got the opportunity to do that and have hands-on experience with the engines, cleaning the parts and learning what the maintenance people do on a day-to-day basis," said Ivette Alonso Garcia, who participated in the summer internship program with Horizon Airlines.
Even without the potential for more hands-on experience with this plane, the students said it was a unique experience to witness the last time a plane flies.
"Seeing the last time that this plane is going to be airborne is truly beautiful," said O-ACE student Wynter Boehm.
Horizon Air's president, Joe Sprague, said that the airline's entire fleet is actually in the process of being swapped out to a new model of plane.
The Q400 model is the one that's been flown the most out of any other model in the company's 41-year history.
"It's doggone special that we're going to have one of those Q400s stay here forever in the Pacific Northwest," Sprague said. "And not just be parked as a museum piece, but to continue to do really important work."
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