But $35 million in state funding planned for the aviation academy in the state budget for 2019 was derailed by a need for emergency relief funding after Hurricane Michael devastated southwest Georgia.
Legislators ultimately nailed down funding for the project. But the original site selected for the academy next to the airport terminal was deemed by the Federal Aviation Administration as necessary for other future airport development.
Officials chose an alternative site adjacent to the Paulding airfield, and went through an environmental assessment process for approval. A range of logistical issues for the rural location also had to be worked out, including sewer, fiber, electric and water service, said state Rep. Martin Momtahan, R-Dallas.
State Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, said Friday’s groundbreaking showed Paulding has come a long way since the contentious fight over the airport’s future.
He called it an example of “turning a negative into a positive.”
Officials say they plan to complete the three-story building and hangar by fall of 2023, seek FAA approvals for the training and begin offering classes in 2024. The academy will train about 24 students at a time in a two-year program. The college plans to offer training for an airframe and powerplant certificate as well as specialties such as avionics.
“Graduates of this academy will have many options,” said Ron Newcomb, president of Chattahoochee Tech, which has eight campuses across north metro Atlanta and North Georgia, including in Paulding.
Labor shortages and staffing issues have driven mass flight cancellations this year as airlines rush to staff up again after cutbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. But airlines and other aviation companies such as Savannah-based Gulfstream have also faced a shortage of skilled aircraft mechanics that has been brewing for years.
When the Chattahoochee Tech aviation academy at Paulding was first envisioned, metro Atlanta faced a particular paucity because the Atlanta Technical College’s aircraft maintenance program lost its FAA certification. It has since regained the FAA imprimatur, and is again one of several aircraft maintenance technical school programs in Georgia.