Students in the aviation maintenance program at Spokane Community College are accustomed to working on bush planes.
Now they will learn how to maintain and repair something much bigger: a jet engine designed for a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
School officials unveiled the 14-foot-tall, 17,000-pound GEnx turbine during a ceremony Tuesday at SCC’s Felts Field hangar.
Manufactured by General Electric and gifted by Boeing, the engine will give students hands-on experience with some of the latest commercial airplane technology.
Bill McSherry, Boeing’s vice president for government operations, said students also will develop skills they can use on the company’s factory floor after graduation.
“It will make them much more valuable potential employees to companies like us and other aerospace companies around the state, around the country,” McSherry said.
More than 100 people attended the unveiling ceremony, including students and instructors from the aviation program, a handful of elected officials and a group of students from Shadle Park High School.
The high school students are taking part in Boeing’s Core Plus program, which aims to prepare them for careers in the aerospace industry.
About 75 students are enrolled in SCC’s aviation program, which offers two associate degrees and six certificates.
McSherry said Boeing needs talented graduates to address a looming shortage of workers on its manufacturing and assembly lines.
“There is a terrible skill shortage in our country,” he said. “Over the next 10 years, we think 2.4 million jobs will go unfilled because the students coming out of schools don’t have the skills that employers like Boeing, our suppliers and our counterparts in other industries need to have in order to fill these jobs here in Washington.”
Robin Toth, who leads aerospace programs at the state Department of Commerce, echoed that.
“We need to continue to fill the pipeline,” Toth said. “There are going to be huge numbers of retirements in the near future, and new opportunities will come online with new programs.”
A new GEnx engine can sell for between $20 million and $30 million. McSherry and school officials declined to state the value of the donated engine, which was never flown and which arrived at the Felts Field hangar with some exterior damage.
“The value is not really in dollars,” McSherry said. “It’s in what you can do with it.”
SCC President Kevin Brockbank and Christine Johnson, chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane, also spoke Tuesday alongside Jennifer Paige, who was hired at Boeing after graduating from SCC nearly two years ago.
Paige was quickly promoted to a management position, overseeing a team that puts finishing touches on KC-767 tankers before they are delivered to the U.S. Air Force.
Paige credited SCC for teaching her the necessary skills, including basics such as drilling holes and using a torque wrench.
“I didn’t know how to do any of these things. I learned a lot being in this program,” she said. “Spokane Community College is really good about providing real-life experiences that you can take with you to your career.”