United Airlines Sponsors PIA Competition Team

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – United Airlines staff gathered Wednesday with students and faculty from the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics at its Youngstown campus to announce the sponsorship for the aviation maintenance school’s competition team.

From April 28-30, Kellan Wilging, a first semester student at PIA, will join second semester students Jackson Herschman and John Beckwith, and third semester students Eric Manaro and Shawn Wodogeza, in Dallas for the annual Aerospace Maintenance Competition. Michael Ernst, instructor at PIA, and Tom Repula, lead instructor at PIA, will accompany the students.

The competition is the Aerospace Maintenance Council’s main event every year and it promotes the aerospace maintenance community, its website reports. During the competition, students will be able to showcase their abilities along with others across the country who are in the field. More than 50 teams will be competing in this year’s competition.

This is the third year that students participate in the competition, which has grown each year, Repula said. Repula has worked in the field for 40 years. Students are selected based on GPA, attendance and competition practice attendance, he said. There are 132 students attending the PIA campus at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and the graduation rate is above 90%, Repula said.

“The first year that we went to the competition, we talked to some United folks and they said if we can do something next year to help you out, lets see if we can do that,” he said. “Last year, we met with the Cleveland team and worked with them directly, and it made our students go way up in the time scores.”

The donation from United Airlines will include the team’s registration fees, flights to and from the competition, hotel accommodations, flights to and from a training session with the United competition team at their maintenance base in Houston and a welcome reception and dinner at the competition in Dallas.

It’s the largest sponsorship PIA Youngstown has ever received, which is crucial because it is a nonprofit organization, Repula said. In order to send students to an event like this, money must be raised, he said.

“Last year for the four teams, it was a significant amount of cost, so typically I’m the one that has to go out and beg for sponsorships,” Repula said. “This took care of our problem this year all the way around, so that’s just a 100% win.”

The main takeaway for students participating in the competition is they learn that everything takes teamwork, Repula said. The airline industry takes teamwork to make “the whole dance happen every day around the world,” he said, as a slew of mechanics work on every part of the plane to ensure they stay flyable.

In addition, students will be working with experienced aviation maintenance professionals from United Airlines, which will be new to them, he said.

“We’re excited to help give all of these students more knowledge and push of what they’re going to experience when they get out of school and start working as aircraft maintenance technicians,” said Garrett West, managing director for hub maintenance at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Herschman says his skills will be more attractive to future employers because of the experience he gains in the competition, and it will allow him to get more experience out of the classroom.

“I initially didn’t work with my hands at all up until a few years ago, then I got a job working on cars at a local shop,” Herschman said. “I fell in love with working with my hands but I hated working on cars. Planes sounded way cooler.”

For Manaro, the competition is an opportunity to prove the skills he’s learned at PIA, he said.

Manaro has gained in-depth knowledge of how every system of an aircraft works from electrical parts to how engines operate, he said. He has always been fascinated with anything that flies – helicopters, airplanes, and drones – and PIA was his opportunity to learn everything about them, he said.

“I think it’d be one of the coolest things in the world to be able to maintain these things to be flying every day,” Manaro said.

Manaro graduates this August and plans to stay in northeastern Ohio to work, he said, but he is open to going anywhere to explore the field.

Attending PIA gave Wodogeza the chance to pick up from where he left off. With a passion for aviation and to be a pilot, he is excited to learn new skills and to meet other people in the field during the competition, he said.

When he graduated high school 20 years ago, Wodogeza went to Kent State University to be a pilot. But when “life happened,” he worked at the General Motors Lordstown Complex for 10 years. When the plant closed, Wodogeza had the opportunity to go back to school through the state, he said.

“I actually saw a commercial and it just kind of clicked,” Wodogeza said.

Wodogeza will graduate with Manaro this August and he plans to work locally, he said.

With a worldwide shortage of technicians in the industry, United collaborating with PIA is important, said O’Hare’s West.

“We’ve had that working relationship with the school and wanted to move that collaboration up to another level,” he said. “We do have a need for technicians and we do like to work with the schools to help raise awareness.”

Pictured: United Airlines employees Brian Hall, Jack Waldeck, Garrett Morrison, Matthew Paul and Daniel Morrison meet with PIA students Kellan Wilging, Shawn Wodogeza, Jackson Herschman, John Beckwith and Eric Manaro, as well as Garrett West, O’Hare International Airport, and PIA instructors Michael Ernst and Tom Repula.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.