Industry considers the future of the maintenance technician

 - January 24, 2007, 11:20 AM

To keep up with changing times and meet the needs of the industry, the maintenance sector needs more freedom to provide technicians with real-world training and support the development of clear industry standards, according to attendees at the final Future of Aviation Maintenance Summit, held late last year at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance, Virginia Beach, Va. The purpose of the three summits was for industry stakeholders to explore technician training and discuss ways to attract new entrants into aviation maintenance careers.

According to Stan Mackiewicz, National Air Transportation Association representative for government and industry affairs, the next step is for interested parties to set up a meeting in Washington, D.C., to explore some of the summit committees’ recommendations about boosting recruiting on a local level and modifying their training programs to meet the needs of the aviation industry.

The consensus at the summits was that the current maintenance training requirements should be modified. Attendees noted that schools that train students to pass the FAA airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic tests are constrained by the fact that FAR Part 147 regulates the curriculum and number of hours of required classroom time. Summit attendees felt that schools should have latitude to train technicians in skills needed by modern airlines, maintenance companies, aircraft operators and manufacturers, instead of being forced to deliver, for example, a specific number of hours of dope-and-fabric training.

Mackiewicz said that the issue of technician shortages is not a summit focus, but he hears from maintenance organizations that they are having a hard time filling technician positions. “The reality is they can’t fill the jobs for what they want to pay,” he said. “It’s kind of a Catch-22. I don’t believe the industry overall has really felt the pain of any type of a shortage, yet.”

Industry Standards Necessary
At the Virginia Beach summit, Mackiewicz was the facilitator on the industry working group. He found that there is growing support for the National Center for Aircraft Technician Training (NCATT), an industry-led certification program much like the automotive industry’s Automotive Service Excellence program. “There is much more support of NCATT,” he said. “I think we will see industry rally around it.”

“People are more interested in industry standards than they [have been] in the past,” agreed NCATT executive director Floyd Curtis, who is also a dean at Tarrant County Community College in Fort Worth, Texas. Attendees at the maintenance summits, he added, “seem like they’re interested in the structure of NCATT.”

Training Programs Formalized
NCATT began as a means of providing industry certification programs for avionics technicians. Its first certification was the Aircraft Electronics Technician (AET), and since last July, 134 technicians have passed the AET testing and certification program.

NCATT has plans for 13 avionics certification programs, all of which it is planning to bring to the marketplace. “We have had requests to look at [other] areas,” Curtis said. “We [did not] want to not limit it to avionics. I’m fond of the A&P structure, but there are cases where just because you hire an A&P doesn’t mean they’re heavy sheet metal experts.”

Curtis emphasized that NCATT isn’t a training program. “We don’t have any courses,” he explained. “NCATT steers people to training providers. We provide resources to help people study on their own or help schools present the curriculum.”
Next up for NCATT are certification programs for navigation and communication systems. “Those two are almost ready for the test centers,” he said. “The standards are approved and we’re working on the exams right now.” After nav and com systems, NCATT’s next program will be for avionics installation and integration.

The only constraint holding back NCATT from creating more aviation technician certification programs now is funding. The organization received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Curtis is seeking NSF money to keep NCATT going for another three years.

Industry partners have been generous in donating time and effort to help develop certification programs, but NCATT could always use more volunteers, he said. “We need money, that’s the bottom line of everything,” he said. “A lot of folks told us it takes about 10 years to firmly establish a certification program. We would like to see it accelerated. All the stakeholders need that. Hopefully, with support from industry we can get this in place.”