SAN ANTONIO - The airline industry is expected to lose thousands of technicians over the next few years, and that's on top of an ongoing labor shortage.
Aircraft technicians are the people that get your airplane ready to fly safely. They check the engines, use diagnostic equipment, and test all of the aircraft's systems.
Hundreds of these workers are being trained right here in San Antonio.
A crowd of students gathered around a smoking jet engine Thursday at Hallmark University's campus.
They watched intently as an instructor explained why the smoke was fuming and where it was coming from.
Later on, the students will learn to take these engines apart and fix them, along with other aircraft systems.
Hallmark University is located at the San Antonio Airport. The passenger planes loading up with travelers on vacation sit yards away from where future technicians train.
"We'll graduate out into the world somewhere around 150 technicians each year," said Stan Younger, Dean of Aeronautics at Hallmark University. "We look for that to grow now, exponentially, because of the industry need."
It's a 15 month program offered at Hallmark University.
Students complete eight-week terms aimed at helping them pass their FAA exams to become certified technicians. They earn an associates degree in the process too.
Younger says this program has one of the best pass rates for the FAA exam in the nation.
The graduates of the program are able to get right to work, helping fill necessary positions in San Antonio and beyond.
It's a popular program among high school graduates, but it often fits right into the skillset of military veterans.
Greg Castilleja is a retired Marine and now teaches at the school.
"It's a job field like carpenters, and welders, and plumbers," Castilleja said. "The older generations are starting to retire, and now, a lot of companies are gonna need fresh faces to fill those seats for years to come."
And the demand to fill those jobs is growing, especially now that travel is picking back up after the pandemic.
"It is through the roof," Younger said.
Chris Proscia came to teach at Hallmark University after working as a maintenance manager for an airline in Dallas.
He says there were furloughs and layoffs when COVID hit, but now, people are traveling again.
Wherever there are planes, these technicians are needed.
"We have lives on our hands. We are just as important as the pilots," Proscia said. "In order for the planes to fly, yes, you have to have pilots, but you have to have people making sure the plane is safe."
After passing their FAA exams, Younger says as many as 75% of graduates stay to fill the needs of the San Antonio Airport, something that will be especially helpful with its upcoming expansion.
"I think it's just so important that Texas as well as San Antonio has this way of creating aviation employees from within," Younger said. "We are an anchor for the region, but we're also an anchor for the state."