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Alabama Aviation Training Center plays key role in aerospace growth

MOBILE, Alabama — A key ingredient to the success of Alabama’s Airbus jet manufacturing facility is an innovative advanced training center built by the state to boost the aerospace industry workforce.

The $7 million Alabama Aviation Training Center, which opened in 2014 at Mobile Aeroplex, is operated by the state’s top worker training agency, AIDT, and prepares workers for the nearby A320 family Final Assembly Line (FAL).

AIDT Director Ed Castile said the facility plays a key role for Airbus and Alabama.

“The expansion of the civil aviation sector in Alabama over the last five years has once again diversified Alabama’s industrial portfolio,” he said. “Because of this expansion, specifically in Mobile and Baldwin counties, the need for a state-of-the-art aviation training center was on our list of ‘must-haves.’

AIDT Airbus training center
AIDT’s Alabama Aviation Center at Mobile Aeroplex will help prepare a skilled workforce for Airbus.

Since its opening four years ago, the Alabama Aviation Training Center has trained more than 400 Airbus employees, said Castile, who also serves as deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

The facility will also likely be the heart of the training program for workers on a potential second assembly line for A220 family aircraft (formerly the Bombardier C-Class). Read a story on the Airbus-Bombardier alliance.

The 36,500-square-foot facility houses training such as safety, quality, computer and leadership development courses, as well as specific Airbus technical courses and new hire orientations. It has composite, electrical and computer labs, traditional classrooms, offices and meeting space.

More than 2,500 pre/post employment trainings and assessments have taken place there, along with more than 1,100 pre-employment orientations.

TRAINEE TO TRAINER

One of those who has gone through the center was Tim Wallis, who has gone from trainee to trainer in his career with Airbus.

He was initially hired on at Airbus as a Ground Test Inspector, a job that required a combination of testing all the systems of the aircraft and giving his quality assurance that everything functioned as required.

“My initial assessment was a tough but fair one,” he said. “Almost immediately after performing standard greetings and introductions with the hiring managers and HR, I was given a pre-made wire bundle — basically an in-house collection of about 25 wires that split off into five or six different ends — and told to inspect it for damages and/or discrepancies in its production.”

The only tools he received were the schematics for the wiring harness, safety goggles and a multimeter for testing.

“If you had the proper background and knew what you were doing, it was not that much of a challenge,” he said. “But if you were lost, it would have been quickly evident.”

Today, Wallis is the Technical Trainer for the FAL in Mobile. He delivers most of the initial trainings new hires will need to begin their career at Airbus or are required for progression through their personal development plan.

The trainings he teaches vary from a general familiarization course for the A320 family that encompasses airframe, avionics and power plant theory, as well as courses that instruct workers in the FAL to read and understand the engineering drawings that are used as the master plans for designing each aircraft.

“This is quite a process and requires a lot of communication and understanding between the FAL, AIDT and our support groups from training centers in Miami and Europe,” he said.

TRAINING ASSET

The Alabama Aviation Training Center is instrumental in the successful recruitment and training for potential Airbus employees for a variety of reasons, Wallis said.

“Because we have the ability to dedicate rooms located within the training center for full-time training classes, we never run into the problem where we are unable to provide or have to cancel a required training due to booking constraints or other logistical issues,” he said. “Since the training center is so dynamic and can be host for a variety of functions, the pre-employment process ensures the hiring managers are well aware of their new employees’ strengths and weaknesses long before they actually hit the floor running.

“This includes, but is not limited to, riveting, wire harness buildup, quality checks and many more job-related functions we can simulate in a work-like environment. Also, because Alabama Aviation Training Center is a satellite location near but not on the Airbus campus, students feel more comfortable dedicating the time they are here solely to the task of learning something new and not being constantly interrupted by the FAL. This is crucial to ensuring the messages being delivered are focused on and understood and not just ‘attended.’”

CAREER SWITCH

Before joining Airbus in 2014, Wallis was serving active duty as a helicopter flight mechanic in the U.S. Coast Guard. He had spent 11 years performing mechanical and electrical work and quality checks while also serving as a search and rescue flight crew in cities including New Orleans, Los Angeles and Seattle.

His last station was in Mobile, where there was a lot of buzz in the military aviation community about Airbus’ hiring plans. After talking with his wife, he decided to submit a resume.

“Fortunately for us, I was selected and after learning more about Airbus, the job itself and the benefits of employment, we decided to make the switch in careers and have been very happy and successful ever since,” he said.

 

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