Aviation Industry Expo 2006: PAMA experiences turnaround

 - September 19, 2006, 2:26 PM

“This is our first show since the SAE [Society of Automotive Engineers] alliance and I think it’s going well. It’s good exposure for both SAE and PAMA; I expect to see our alliance continue to grow,” Dave Orcutt, PAMA chairman and v-p of customer support for Bombardier Business Aircraft, told AIN. “We’ve seen a lot activity on the floor, and the PAMA Olympics is going really well.”

Unfortunately it was impossible to tell exactly how well the show was doing. No one from Cygnus (the show’s organizer), SAE or PAMA was willing to report PAMA attendance figures despite several attempts to get them as late as a week after the event. Total AIE attendance was about 5,400, but a representative for Cygnus could not say what portion of that number was PAMA-related.

“Three years ago we were on the edge of not being an organization, but it’s turned around and we’ve begun a slow recovery,” Orcutt said. “The SAE timing worked out well for us; it was the shot in the arm we needed as an organization.”

In response to the criticism of a few who said PAMA formed the alliance without member input, Orcutt said that just wasn’t the case. “It was in the monthly newsletter and we involved chapters and regional directors in the decision,” he said. “We specifically relied on the chapter presidents and regional reps to keep the members in the loop because we didn’t want to move forward if there wasn’t member approval. But at the end of the day it was a majority board decision. We realized we needed the alliance to expand the organization.”

The criticism reflects a significant problem for PAMA: organizational structure. For reasons that are unclear, it is possible to be a member of the national organization but not a local chapter; conversely it is possible to participate in a local chapter and not be a member of the national organization. The system lends itself to communication challenges.

According to Orcutt, one of the benefits of SAE is the association’s expertise in governance. “I think you’ll see changes develop in our structure as a result of SAE’s suggestions about effective governance,” Orcutt said.

Without a doubt the strength of Aviation Industry Expo for PAMA members continues to be the rich academic environment. This year’s programming included more than 100 hours of both full-day and hourly sessions. In addition to classroom educational opportunities, the event also served as a fundraiser for the organization’s scholarship fund. PAMA continues to place significant emphasis on helping maintenance technicians improve their skills and knowledge.

Thirty seminars were offered for IA renewal credit. There was a cross section of programming ranging from aircraft type-specific seminars by OEMs to generic courses and career-enhancement information. PAMA also offered four professional development workshops: Aircraft Accident Investigation from the Maintenance Perspective by ex-NTSB members John Goglia and Greg Feith; Maintenance Resource Management by Al Krusz, director of maintenance training and corporate counselor for FlightSafety International; Aviation Maintenance Management by Brandon Battles, vice president of Conklin & de Decker; and Vital Communications Skills for Today’s Maintenance Leaders by Jodie Brown, president of Summit Solutions and Duane Taylor, one of the company’s strategic partners.

During the annual PAMA membership meeting president Brian Finnegan underscored the organization’s mission: professionalism and recognition. Finnegan emphasized that a primary role of the organization is to educate its members and the public.

“I think educating the public is a major step toward improving the life of aviation maintenance technicians,” Finnegan said. “That’s why we’re a driving force in the effort to have May 24 officially designated by Congress as National Aviation Maintenance Technician Day in honor of Charles E. Taylor [the Wright brothers’ mechanic],” he said. “We believe May 24 should honor Taylor and all aviation maintenance professionals.” Finnegan urged everyone to contact their representative in support.

Finnegan spoke extensively about the benefits of the alliance with SAE and emphasized that the two organizations share core principles. “The purpose of SAE is product life cycle: design, manufacturing, operations, maintenance and reuse. Our members make perfect sense in that paradigm.

“The mantra I bring to you regarding how PAMA fits into SAE is: if it’s aerospace or aviation maintenance, it’s PAMA. We are now the aerospace maintenance wing of SAE; that evolution is in progress right now,” he said. “This is where we are going to broaden our base by expanding into all facets of aerospace maintenance.

“And there is yet another area into which we will expand–the engineering aspect. Like it or not, as aircraft system complexity increases you’re going to see a growing number of maintenance professionals who are also engineers.”

Finnegan said he understood the reservations of some PAMA members who have questioned the alliance. “The challenge I have today is to communicate all the opportunities we now have with the help of SAE. Some of our members look at the name–Society of Automotive Engineers–and they think of an automobile. Unfortunately that’s a problem of semantics we have to live with.”

SAE’s original name was the Society of Automobile Engineers when Wilbur Wright convinced the governing body at the time to change the name to make it inclusive of the new field of aviation. Unfortunately, the word he chose was “automotive,” meaning any vehicle that moves under its own power.

“Today aerospace constitutes about 20 percent of SAE’s 90,000 members. They wanted to expand the aerospace sector and saw PAMA as a way to do it,” Finnegan explained. “The current drive is to increase membership to 92,000 this year.” PAMA’s current membership is about 2,600, and Finnegan would like the organization to take on enough new members this year to meet SAE’s growth model.

“We really don’t have a problem attracting new members,” he said. “Our biggest problem is retaining them. We lose about 40 percent of our membership a year. There are various reasons, but one major reason is retention at the chapter level. Chapters have to stress to their members the importance of renewing their national membership. The problem is that they can get what they want from the organization at the chapter level so many simply don’t pay national dues. Chapter leaders have to stress the bigger picture–the national agenda.”

Despite some of the problems PAMA faces, the organization is clearly on much more solid footing today thanks to the help of SAE. “We still have issues to resolve but at least we no longer have to worry about our very existence,” Finnegan said. “Finally we can concentrate on improving and building the organization.”

Expanding Member Services

To that end Finnegan continues to push for a formal program that recognizes mechanics’ education, training and experience. The organization already has a popular career-assistance service and other educational opportunities. He also said the board was exploring the possibility of becoming an IRS 501C3 not-for-profit organization to make donations tax deductible.

During the meeting some members reported that it is difficult to convince their employers to allow them to take off in the middle of the week for the event.  Finnegan said PAMA is looking at the possibility of organizing regular regional forums.

For the fifth year the PAMA Aviation Maintenance Olympics, sponsored by Snap-On tools, offered team and individual competition in such events as electrical connectors, FAR and data research, hardware identification, hydraulics, rigging, wiring and troubleshooting. Judging is based on safety, workmanship, speed and professional appearance.

Under the guidance of Tom Yanus, chair of PAMA’s aviation maintenance Olympics committee, six teams competed for gold, silver and bronze medals. Snap-On donated thousands of tools as prizes. This year’s teams represented Bombardier, Midcoast Aviation, Southwest Airlines, Raytheon, JetBlue and AWAM (Association of Women in Aviation Maintenance).

Under the tutelage of John Boomhower, director of turbofan sales for Standard Aero and president of the Professional Aviation Maintenance Foundation, that group raised more than $15,000 for the scholarship fund. In addition to the traditional Chili Cookoff fundraiser Boomhower reinstituted a silent auction.

The silent auction drew diverse donations, including books and subscriptions to magazines, tools, training packages, advertising space in Trade-A-Plane, a travel voucher from American Airlines, apparel such as OEM logo jackets, aviation art, games and recreational equipment, aircraft models and appliances such as a high-end coffee maker. The diverse value of the items gave bidding opportunities to those with modest and high-end wallets.

Items ranged in price from an autographed copy of Charles E. Taylor’s biography by H.D. DuFour valued at $34.95 to a Challenger 604 “Ramp and Transit” training course by Bombardier Customer Training valued at $9,500.

Boomhower said PAMF is exploring the possibility of funding an industry study of maintenance technician needs for the next 30 years. “I envision it telling us the number of positions, types (avionics and mechanic), along with skill sets required.” He said PAMF would be approaching universities with an outline of the scope and a request for an estimate of the cost and methodology necessary to implement it.

In addition to its recent fund-raising activities, PAMF is developing the Charles E. Taylor Society for those who donate more than $5,000 in cash. Members of the society will have their donations recognized by a plaque in a location of significance to Charles E. Taylor.

The highlight of the annual gathering is the PAMF Chili Cookoff sponsored by PAMA and Anheuser-Busch. It gives attendees the opportunity to socialize, eat some great chili and raise scholarship money. The 11 contestants served up bowls at $1 each.

This year’s top team was General Dynamics Aviation Services/Gulfstream, which raised more than $2,300 of the $5,500 the event pulled in. The other contestants included: Aircraft Maintenance Technology Magazine; Aircraft Window Repairs; Avrak; Bombardier Aerospace; EMS Satcom; FlightSafety International; Jet Professionals and Midcoast Aviation.