Aviation Alliance To Support The Industry In Colombia

As airline tickets become more affordable and the tourism industry expands in Colombia, the aviation industry grows to meet demand. The number of passengers per year grew between 2005 and 2015 from 10.3 to 34.1 million, causing an increase in airline companies, operations, and airport improvements, as well as related challenges. An interdisciplinary group of Purdue representatives visited universities in Medellín to create a unique and powerful coalition to help address the challenges of the expanding aviation sector in Colombia.

Representatives from Purdue visited each university separately. From left to right: David Stanley (Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis), Denver Lopp (School of Aviation & Transportation Technology - Purdue), Juan Diego Velásquez (Strategic Initiatives - Purdue), David Alejandro Pineda (College of Engineering - UdeA), Julián Mauricio Arenas (College of Engineering - UdeA), José M. García (School of Engineering Technology - Purdue), Pedro León Simanca (Mechanical Engineering Departament - UdeA). Photo provided by UdeA.

The creation of the team started in November 2015 with an exploratory visit by faculty from Purdue to Universidad Nacional and Universidad de Antioquia (UdeA). After the visit and subsequent discussions, they investigated possibilities to share resources and collaborate. They came up with a great idea: ''Avianca (Colombia's largest airline) was planning to move its maintenance and repair operations to Medellín's airport in Rionegro and we saw that as an opportunity to offer our aviation maintenance and operation experience and reputation," says Dr. José García, Assistant Professor of Engineering Technology at Purdue. More recently, a group of four representatives from Purdue visited Universidad Nacional, Universidad de Antioquia, and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. After separate meetings with each university, all participants came together to agree on a shared vision and strategy. "Each university has its own strengths and niche of opportunity, so we created a portfolio of potential services to offer," continues Professor García. Finally, a group comprised of representatives from each university visited both Avianca and the Colombian Air Force to better understand their needs, especially in training services.

The meeting with Avianca's Engineering and Maintenance team centered on the shortage of technicians. Their launch in May 2016 of the 'most modern' Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) operation generated 300 new jobs by September 2016 - and continues to grow. Its high-safety and quality standards, their plans of expansion, and the fact that there are only two other MRO's in Latin America, will attract the attention of other airlines and clients. To support Avianca's growth, the academic alliance will offer them certification and training services in topics related to the MRO business. "We concluded in this meeting that a workshop that focuses on the shortage of technicians and other topics related to the MRO business should be planned and held soon," says David Stanley, Director at Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis and Professor in the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology.

Representatives of the four universities visited Avianca and met with Miguel Angel Montoya, the Vice President for Engineering and Maintenance, and several other key personnel from the Engineering and Maintenance team.

Similarly, the meeting with the Colombian Air Force resulted in new opportunities and partnerships for the university alliance. Besides training and certification needs, the team identified specific technical topics that align closely with the combined capabilities of the alliance. Potential subjects for future collaboration include rotary-wing aircraft, aircraft mission modification, repair, and technical support training. The visit to the Air Force Base was also an interesting event for the members of the coalition. Professor Stanley describes his experience: "We are grateful for the time spent with the Air Force. The Air Force operation and support of sophisticated helicopters is very impressive. Clearly, they understand the complex requirements and challenges for helo operation under difficult mission profiles."

The alliance has several plans under consideration for both the short and the long term. First, they are planning a meeting that will include the four universities, Avianca, and the Colombian Air Force to identify and develop specific technical topics for future workshops. Second, there are plans in the works to offer Aviation students from Purdue a study-abroad program to Medellín, scheduled for the summer of 2018. This offer may also provide the opportunity for Colombian students and industry partners to attend and participate. Finally, the alliance will offer short courses covering specific technical topics of interest to the participating entities. However, the challenges the alliance plans to address are not only academic. "We want to address the needs and challenges of the aviation sector in the region. It includes academic, but is also research, management, and operations," explains Professor García.

The Colombian Air Force identified areas of need for certification, training, and specific technical topics which align closely with the combined capabilities of the university coalition.

As all universities in the coalition, Purdue has its own expertise, experience, and resources to share. Purdue's School of Aviation has over 50 years of education and training experience, with programs in aviation maintenance, aviation management, and professional flight. Purdue faculty will use this knowledge to assist and cooperate with Colombian universities in the establishment of curriculums for Professional Pilots, Aviation Maintenance and Support personnel, and Aviation Management. Aviation faculty members have also conducted research in the MRO industry that can be useful to assist Avianca's MRO.

The creation of the university alliance offers a solid starting point to address the challenges of the growing aviation industry in Colombia. As Professor David Stanley expressed, "I am convinced that we are now positioned to move forward quickly to achieve meaningful and measurable results for aviation in Colombia, and for aviation students, as well."

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