Van Nuys – An embattled mechanics school at Van Nuys Airport got a supercharged boost on Monday with a major gift from a San Fernando Valley aviation firm.
He joins a growing number of advocates hoping to save the vaunted adult training program threatened by budget cuts, rising airport rents and federal red tape.
“I couldn’t do it for any other industry,” said Si Robin, who runs one of the world’s leading suppliers of aircraft antennas, before a news conference at the North Valley Occupational Center hangar. “Especially for young people who are leaving to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
“To keep this school going – it’s probably the most important school in the aviation industry.”
For 40 years, the mechanics school now just west of the main runway has trained students in airframe and powerplant operation.
Its two-year course, open to roughly 100 high school students and adults, has a 92-percent graduation rate, officials say.
And nearly all grads land jobs paying up to $25 an hour building or fixing private, commercial and military aircraft, including many at Van Nuys Airport.
For months, however, city officials have teamed up with airport
officials and local businesses to try to salvage the popular program that costs $500,000 a year to run.
The Los Angeles Unified School District had threatened to close its mechanics school because its monthly rent at Van Nuys Airport was slated to double to $12,000 in July.
Los Angeles World Airports, in turn, offered to drop the rent to $1 a month for 15 years.
But that was only if the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees airport uses, lets LAWA cut a deal for nearly free rent.
FAA officials said they only received the formal request last week, and are completing an expedited review. They expect to answer the request very soon.
“Let the whole country know that this is tremendously important,” said newly elected East Valley Congressman Tony Cardenas, a former city councilman and advocate for the mechanics school.
“The FAA needs to approve this paperwork quickly so that LAWA can approve the lease.”
Across the mechanics school, more than 100 students who paid $1,000 for tuition gathered round vintage engines, helicopters and fighter jets.
“There’s getting to be a real shortage in mechanics and aircraft technicians,” said airport businessman Clay Lacy of the Van Nuys
“The thing that’s great about this school: everyone who graduates gets a job. I hire `em.”
One of those students was Jose Munguia, who will soon graduate. While working at the airport, he once fueled up Si Robin’s Beechcraft Staggerwing biplane.
“Very thrilled. Very excited,” said Munguia, 25, of Pacoima.
“I hope to wrench (soon) on the big birds, any passenger aircraft,” he continued.
“The school has meant so much: a better life for me and my family.”
It was 1951 that Si Robin, a native of the Bronx, began flying out of Van Nuys Airport. Since then, he and Betty built Sensor Systems into a 300-employee firm, making 1,100 antennas a day for the likes of Airbus, Boeing and Northrup Grumman.
On Monday, he marveled at the 1949 Bell helicopter now worth $400,000, he said, or the Korean War-era U.S. Air Force T-33 fighter now valued at $2 million. Across the hangar, a bay door opened to the airport roar of commercial jets.
“You see how nice this place is?,” said Robin, a vintage race car driver, beaming to his wife Betty. “This is a place of learning.
“This is one place you cannot lose.”
Updated: This story has been updated Tuesday to include the FAA response.