Scribblings on a piece of scrap paper and a restaurant napkin late last year were the beginnings of what has become The Northeast Tennessee Aviation Education Initiative. Its’ Founders are Tennessee State Representative Tony Shipley, AOPA member Henry Somers and Bell Helicopter’s Richard Blevins. Blevins is also a pilot an AOPA member.

L-R: Somers,Shipley, Blevins

L-R: Somers,Shipley, Blevins

The impetus behind this initiative is a strategy to position the region to attract more aviation and aerospace companies like Bell Helicopter. Currently, Bell has to look elsewhere for technically qualified employees.

A first step in the aviation initiative was a recent announcement that Northeast State Community College will begin offering courses in aviation technology this Fall. NSCC President Janice Gilliam also announced a new $35.5 million Emerging Technologies Complex that will be built on campus, overlooking Tri-Cities Airport. The Aviation Education Initiative plan includes the addition of flight training. And, hopefully, adding aviation curricula to its 4-year degree offerings at East Tennessee State University. Middle Tennessee State University’s Aerospace Department in Murfreesboro, near Nashville, has a world-class aviation industry reputation with over 700 career course offerings that include Professional Pilot, Airport and Aircraft Maintenance Management and Air Traffic Control.

Some high schools in the region are already adding STEM based aviation courses that will prepare students to enter the NSCC and ETSU programs. Students will have options available to them to pursue either post-secondary certifications, 2-year or 4-year degrees. As a result of legislation passed this year by the Tennessee General Assembly, beginning in the Fall of 2015, all high school graduates in Tennessee can receive free tuition to a 2-year community college or technical school in the state. Students have to attend full-time and must meet grade point requirements.

I am a proponent of aviation education, starting as early as possible. For more than 50 years, Tennessee has held Aviation & Aerospace Education Teacher’s Workshops at four state universities during the Summer. The tuition for K-12 teachers is paid through the State’s dedicated aviation fuel taxes fund. Teachers learn how to incorporate aviation into lesson plans because aviation has proven to enhance learning. The STEM based aviation high school courses prescribed by the Institute for Aerospace Education ( are really hands-on. They introduce students to learning to fly and aircraft maintenance. The local airport becomes a “learning lab”.

All of aviation benefits from programs like this Northeast Tennessee Aviation Education Initiative. Whether it’s career oriented or just learning how important aviation is in our daily lives, this becomes another step toward building the pilot and AMT populations that are so critical to our industry and our economy.