The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

AVTEC takes lead in Arctic training


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

AVTEC instructor and student are immersed in Arctic ice maneuvers using the cutting edge marine simulator at AVTEC’s Third Avenue campus. Software modules allow different vessels, environments and equipment to be experienced by the operator and observers.

AVTEC Director Fred Esposito says Seward can expect a lot from the community’s fifth largest employer and Alaska’s leading vocational technical training school. The flagship of AVTEC’s progress is the maritime department’s ice navigation program and is the first training center in the country to receive certification by the United States Coast Guard. Esposito says that Seward is the obvious place to base this kind of training as it’s above the 60th parallel, which is the southern boundary of the Arctic, and has the facilities to best stage access to icy northern waters.

All three Alaskan maritime pilots associations contributed to development of the curriculum, which was supervised by Arctic engineering expert Dr. Orson Smith of the University of Alaska’s School of Engineering in Anchorage. Smith took a sabbatical from UAA and spent it at AVTEC, engineering the curriculum in anticipation of the upcoming 2016 Polar Code that will require an ice manager or ice navigator for Arctic operations. Esposito adds that the Alaska maritime industry considers the USCG standards a minimum and aims for a higher standard to which the AVTEC program is being developed.

Less glamorous, but critical to the marine industry, AVTEC has also spearheaded a QMED or “qualified member of the engineering department“ curriculum which trains entry level marine engineers. Esposito says these positions are under huge demand in the industry and that AVTEC is leading the educational field in Alaska in developing the training program. AVTEC is also pursing acquisition of a diesel engine module to allow marine engineers to train using the in-house simulator.

AVTEC has also reached out to the National Science Foundation and UAF in respect to the Sikuliaq, an Arctic research vessel with icebreaking capability which will soon be based in Seward. The maritime department, working with its consultants, has offered to offered to model the ship and offer specific schooling for licensed mariners to staff it. Esposito notes that, with the recent advancement of its marine educational offerings, AVTEC has the facilities to be an ideal training partner with the NSF and UAF for Sikuliaq operations.

According to Esposito AVTEC and its collaborators are anticipating industry demands as well as upcoming international standards. With simulator modules being developed in Norway and fine tuned to AVTEC’s requirements, the ice navigation program puts Seward on a global stage for this type of training. Esposito is excited and proud of the fact that the team forging the maritime programs goes beyond AVTEC and includes industry, UAA and UAF.

With the highest enrollment ever in AVTEC’s industrial electrical and culinary programs, temporary off-campus housing has worked out far better than expectations, Esposito says. With the new dorm project proceeding on-budget and on-time, he’s looking forward to having students back on campus in time for the new year. The dorm integration and finishing work is due to be substantially completed before Dec. 23 and AVTEC administration is working with the contractor to move furniture in and prep the residence building well in advance of the handover.

With the dorm project almost completed, ground breaking on AVTEC’s new 9,000 square foot diesel shop is slated for spring. The new $6 million shop will connect to the existing campus buildings facing Leirer Road, adjacent to the wind turbine, and will be followed by relocation and expansion of the pipe welding program which sees a high demand for graduates from industry. Beyond that funded project, AVTEC is planning ahead for another phase of expansion to that facility which will involve a $8 million funding request next year for a new building.

Esposito foresees the next couple of years taking AVTEC to a higher level and points to the marine and culinary programs as exemplifying world class training programs with world class facilities. He says that the campus improvements along with programs based in industrial standards and facilities are sending a signal to potential students that the technical training they receive in Seward at a postsecondary level is, at a minimum, comparable to that to be found anywhere else.

AVTEC is hosting the Marine Firefighting Symposium along with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council Oct. 8-10. The training program draws upon AVTEC marine curriculum and PWSRCAC’s professional staff to prepare land-based firefighters for response to oil spills or other marine incidents. To participate contact Alan Sorum by email at or by call 834-5030.


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