NCATT Transitions to Self-sustaining Non-Profit

 - February 17, 2010, 7:48 AM

One of the anomalies of aviation is the lack of FAA direction for, and even recognition of, avionics technicians. Lee Brewster and the National Center for Aerospace and Transportation Technologies (NCATT) at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas, set out change that in 1999 by establishing standards in a number of areas. To continue its work, the organization will require corporate sponsorships starting at the end of next month. Brewster, who is the program coordinator, said NCATT set about establishing standards for aircraft electronic technician (AET) certification with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“We identified AET as a viable career field and systematically identified the skill sets required to be successful,” Brewster said. “We identified 12 skill sets for avionics technicians. The individual sets included areas such as basic fundamentals, navigation, communication, auto flight control systems and datalink services.”

Once it identified a specific subject matter area, NCATT organized a workshop consisting of industry professionals to meet and identify the task, knowledge and skills necessary for that particular skill set. According to Brewster, NCATT has completed four to date: fundamentals, navigation, communication and installation.

“It cannot be emphasized enough that NCATT belongs to the industry and is here to serve as an independent, third-party purveyor and repository of industry-defined and -developed standards and certifications,” Brewster said. “Without the active participation of our industry partners we would not be where we are today.”

The organization has set standards in the aircraft electronics/avionics career field for radio communication systems, onboard communication and safety systems, autonomous navigation systems, dependent navigation systems, installation/integration planning, mechanical installation/integration, electrical installation/integration, and installation/integration final check and documentation.

Other areas NCATT has identified and developed standards for include aerospace/aircraft assembler, foreign object elimination and certification/endorsement programs for all of them. The organization has awarded 1,000 certifications and will begin offering its exam internationally next month. The organization’s standards have been used to accredit 15 training programs across the U.S. to date.

Since 1999 the National Science Foundation has given NCATT three additional grants for a total of $1.6 million but funding officially ends March 31. At that point the IRS 501(C)(6) non-profit organization will need sponsors to continue its mission.

“Our first sponsor is Tarrant County College,” Brewster said. “It has donated office space, equipment and facility usage. It’s a great start but we need to make NCATT a sustainable organization in its own right. The organization needs about $250,000 a year to continue its work. “We still have standards to identify for at least eight more skill sets in avionics and then we will be looking to do the same for other areas of the aerospace industry,” he said.

NCATT is looking for corporate sponsorships to support the organization’s day-to-day work. It also needs individual workshop sponsorships. “Eventually we will be self-sustaining based on the volume of individual technician certifications we do, but it’s going to take some time to build up to that level.”