BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – After six years operating out of a facility in Gray, the Aviation Technology program has set up shop in a new hangar at Tri-Cities Airport.

Department Head, Richard Blevins, told News Channel 11 that all the classes and practical training for students enrolled in the program moved about 35 days ago. While it won’t be completely finished and furnished until the end of December, Blevins is proud of the progress made so far.

“As you can see, it’s pretty well set up,” he said.

The new facility is large enough to hold three smaller planes, a small helicopter, as well as the program’s flight simulator. Not to mention all parts and tools necessary for the students to succeed.

Northeast State helicopter

“In this hangar right now, we have every trainer of every piece of every part of an aircraft system and subsystem,” Blevins said.

He can still recall the moment he showed them the setup for the first time.

“Once this was completed, I brought them over,” Blevins said. “There were just smiles – they just could not wait to get in here.”

“We’ve all been looking forward to it for so long – it’s been great, it’s been great,” Aviation Technology student Chris Vicars said.

The hangar is also home to a pair of fully-equipped classrooms, which has made the transition from books to engines seamless.

“We learn anything in the classroom – we just come straight out here and we already have it here and ready,” fellow student Kaylie Harr said.

Classroom at Northeast State Aviation Technology hangar

“It’s really helped the attitudes too – gets everybody up on their game,” Vicars said.

As the size of the facility has grown, so too has the interest in the program.

“It’s kind of a good and bad story because – it was so good, now we have 50 people waiting in line for our classes and we only have 24 slots.”

Current class rosters and waiting lists have the classes practically full until 2024, even as a second group of students begin their training in January. However, Blevins is working on solutions to ensure no one gets turned away.

“If I could just show a child or a young adult the life you could make for yourself by just committing yourself to two years of work – hard work,” he said, “this will create a life-long opportunity and a livable wage right out the door.”

There’s no doubt, major aircraft corporations are hiring.

“Boeing Aircraft Corporation sends out a quarterly report,” Blevins said. “As pilots and flight crew shortages – right now, according to Boeing Aircraft Corporation, we are at 1.5 million pilots and mechanics short.”

Because of this shortage, Blevins expects his first round of students, who graduate this summer, will have three or four job offers before they leave the program.

“They are right here at our doorstep and they’re just begging for skilled labor and skilled help.”

Blevins plans to begin holding monthly open houses at the hangar in the near future to allow community members and prospective students a chance to learn more about aviation and the program.