AIM Center at SLN grads ascend toward lucrative opportunities

Salina Airport Authority leads efforts to recruit and train aviation maintenance workers

Tim Unruh


Success shined brightly March 7 when the first class from the AIM Center of Excellence at SLN graduated before some 75 well-wishers in Salina Airport Authority’s Hangar 600.


Nine students from varying walks of life received their K-State Salina micro-credentials after six weeks of training in the AIM Center’s pre-apprenticeship aviation maintenance training program.


Cube lamps built, painted, and wired by the students, were on display nearby.


“It went really well. There was a lot of excitement about it,” said Renee Duxler, president and CEO of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, which is marketing the fledgling program and recruiting students.


Pupils are targeted from a wide demographic, ranging from teenagers to adults, as organizers push to fill openings in the aviation industry.


“We’re getting a lot of interest from high school-aged students wanting to do it over the summer, and a few not in high school, some with a military background,” said Jaclyn Crow, director of economic and workforce development at the Chamber.


The opportunity to land rewarding aviation maintenance careers has appealed to callers from as far away as Leavenworth, Duxler said.


The AIM Center is geared to entice individuals to seek work as airframe and power plant mechanics, propelling them into good-paying jobs available in abundance at the Salina Regional Airport and Airport and Industrial Center.


Initial graduates are going through the process of securing employment. AIM Center graduates can also enroll in classes at either K-State Salina or Salina Area Technical College. Enrollees were given a primer in aircraft sheet metal, paint, composites and electronics/avionics.


“It really is a true partnership,” Duxler said, including the Airport Authority, Chamber, K-State Salina, Dreiling Aviation Services, and assistance from many others.


Apprenticeships are available from 1 Vision Aviation, Garmin, Schilling Aviation and other aviation companies.


“A good portion of the (first) class is already employed with us,” said Mandy Merritt, director of quality assurance at 1 Vision Aviation, an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul firm in the Salina Airport and Airport Industrial Center.


“People are referring others to enroll in the class and expand their knowledge in the specialty areas, so it’s turning out to be great for us,” she said. “AIM Center graduates can use their time in that course toward the apprenticeship program at 1 Vision, and that all leads up to becoming a licensed airframe and power plant mechanic.”


Another route is formal education from K-State Salina or Salina Area Technical College


Hundreds of aviation workers with the specialized training are needed at 1 Vision, where there are roughly 150 currently employed. There is demand for more than 500 aviation maintenance workers.


Over the next two years, the AIM Center endeavors to introduce over 300 students to opportunities for aviation maintenance industry jobs.


Cost to go through the AIM Center program is $200, which covers all training and materials. The class meets from 5:30 to 8:30 — sometimes 9 p.m. — Monday through Friday evenings, Duxler said, to accommodate those still in school or working. Four more cohorts are planned this year, with a cap of 25 students in each class, “in order to provide the highest quality training and instructor time,” she said.


It all starts with a phone call to Crow at (785) 827-9301, ext. 127 or by visiting, where you can provide information and fill out an application.


“Jaclyn does a phone interview,” Duxler said. “If they’re deemed eligible, they can officially enroll.”


The Chamber is working with KansasWorks to help with the tuition, and searching for other funding, along with short-term housing for students living beyond commuting distance.


“We want to make this available for those who can’t adequately drive back and forth,” Duxler said. “We’re in conversations with Fort Riley for transitioning service members. We would like to retain them for their background and skills.” 


Four more cohorts are planned this year, with the next one beginning May 20. Two will be taught this summer, followed by two more in the fall.


The AIM Center was established with a $3.325 million Kansas Department of Commerce Aviation Learning Opportunities & Funded Training (ALOFT) program grant made to the Salina Airport Authority.


Good reviews have come from the AIM faculty of five, said Shelli Swanson, the airport authority director of administration and finance. She led the instructor recruitment and was key in getting the Airport Authority’s AIM Center stood up.


“The instructors have all been very positive about it,” she said.


One faculty member, Scott Thomas, director of aircraft coatings at 1 Vision and the AIM Center’s paint instructor, is particularly intrigued by the new training program.


“There wasn’t anything like this where he cut his teeth,” Swanson said. “It’s been exciting to help the next generation of aircraft mechanics and painters.”


Thomas is also adding to his knowledge, being enrolled as a student in a class that is unveiling “new cutting-edge aircraft coatings,” Swanson said, and will share new techniques with the next cohort.


Duxler reported positive feedback from the faculty in the wake of the first graduation.


“(Students) got a good base on the fundamentals, and it did ignite an excitement to seek out further training,” she said. “I believe all the faculty was very pleased about how the first cohort went.”


The AIM Center snared good reviews from Tucky Allen, business services director with Kansas WorkforceONE.


“The first cohort went really well. There’s some already working for 1 Vision and enhancing their skills. Some were completely green and learning new skills. We saw great success with all of them,” he said. “Apprenticeships are pretty new in Kansas and so are pre-apprenticeships. It’s a great way of doing it because it’s a learn-and-earn model.”

Did You Know?


To learn more about the AIM Center of Excellence at SLN or inquire about enrolling in one of classes, email Jaclyn Crow at, or call her at (785) 827-9310, ext. 127, or visit and fill out an interest form.


Remaining AIM classes meet from:

May 20 to June 28

July 8 to Aug. 16

Sept. 2 to Oct. 11

Oct. 28 to Dec. 13

Classes run Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuition for the six-week course is $200.

Scholarship opportunities are available.


Kansas WorkforceONE

Kansas WorkforceONE is a nonprofit organization funded primarily from the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) through the federal Department of Labor.

WorkforceONE “provides supportive services to help adults and youths secure jobs, promoting increased stability and sustainability within the local economy,” said Tucky Allen, business services director.


“We oversee there operations in the Workforce Center, receipt for employees and connect them to employers,” he said. 


Meet the AIM Center faculty


  • Chad Robbs, lead instructor, and senior project manager at 1 Vision Aviation

  • Mike Paul, chief of maintenance for Blue Beacon Inc. Flight Department and an aviation maintenance management instructor at K-State Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus, training sheet metal to AIM students


  • Adam Bellerive, an avionics technician an airframe mechanic and instructor at K-State Salina who formerly worked at Duncan Aviation, Lincoln, NE

  • Doug Zerr, an instructor focusing on composites and mechanical engineering technology at K-State Salina

  • Scott Thomas, director of aircraft coatings at 1 Vision Aviation, an FAA certified airframe and power plant licensed mechanic, who leads the AIM Center paint class

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