There is a waiting period of more than a year for students to get into the nationally recognized Aviation Technology Program at Pima Community College in Tucson. While students wait for the education that leads to high-quality jobs, it is time also marked by Southern Arizona employers who urgently need the highly trained graduates emerging from the program.

A one-time $20 million appropriation, included in Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed state budget, would allow the program to double the number of students to about 250 by expanding the capacity of current facilities located adjacent to the Tucson International Airport. However, that proposal is now being debated in the Legislature during budget talks.

Failing to fund the full request for the Pima Aviation Technology program expansion jeopardizes the growth and economic development of Arizona’s important and growing aerospace and defense sector. State lawmakers are strongly encouraged to support the full $20 million funding.

Today’s aviation maintenance technicians require advanced knowledge, skills and training. According to Forbes, within the next 10 years, 58 percent of the U.S. fleet will be planes designed and built after 2005.

Critically, Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. estimates a 40 percent increase in aviation jobs in Southern Arizona alone, well above the 10 percent national average. Pima County represents the largest concentration of aviation occupations in the Southern Arizona region with 1,336 of the total 1,535 jobs reported in 2015. But one of the nation’s largest aviation employers, Boeing, is in Phoenix. Boeing and other Maricopa employers are eager for the increased output the expanded Pima Community College program could provide.

Pima’s Aviation Technology program provides approximately 125 students per year with the opportunity to study aircraft maintenance in a high-tech, hands-on learning environment. The program places 90 percent of its graduates in high-demand jobs around the country, including with 15 Arizona aviation employers.

Graduates’ median annual earnings range from $57,000 for aircraft mechanics to $65,000 for avionics technicians, not including overtime and shift differential pay. Moreover, Pima is one of the few U.S. schools teaching the highly-sought-after and well-paying specialty of Advanced Structural Repair and Modification, is one of a handful of FAA-approved schools with curriculum covering commercial jet transports, and is one of only 87, or about half, of FAA-approved schools offering an aviation maintenance degree.

Expanding the Pima aviation program would help create 300 additional direct jobs in the industry over five years, and would have a total job impact of more than 455 jobs, including suppliers and consumer industry. The total economic impact for Arizona is more than $225.5 million over five years.

The decision to fully fund expansion of this critical program this year should be a clear priority.

Amber Smith is president and CEO of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at 520-792-2250 or Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Follow him on Twitter @GlennHamer and @AZChamber.