A leaner PAMA group strives for effectiveness

 - April 2, 2007, 10:49 AM

“We’re very pleased with this year’s show,” Jill Hilgenberg, show manager for Cygnus Exposition’s Aviation Events, told AIN during Aviation Industry Week in Las Vegas May 18 to 20. “Total attendance is 5,884, up from 5,100 last year, and about one fourth of those listed PAMA as their interest. There were also 375 full PAMA registrants, meaning that in addition to visiting the show floor they participated in the PAMA seminars and other events.”

This year PAMA offered more than 40 seminars. They included technical presentations ranging from the repair of advanced composite aircraft structures to OEM sessions such as Bombardier’s Learjet maintenance and operations presentation. In addition to technical sessions, administrative-oriented topics were offered such as an insurance roundtable, legal issues for the aviation maintenance technician and the role of computerization and the Internet.

Robin Lamar, president of the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance (AWAM), held a session called “Techs, Teachers, Ideas and Engineers–Women at Work.” “One of the things we’ve realized in developing AWAM is that the industry is very pro-woman. We’re no longer bashing down doors to get in,” she said. “The issue today is to convince women this is where they want to be.” She said AWAM has $30,000 in scholarship money, and there are many scholarships in the industry specifically for maintenance technicians that go without applicants every year. “I don’t think it even occurs to most women,” Lamar said.

A highlight of the convention is the PAMA awards luncheon. This year’s keynote address was given by Mark Rosenker, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “What you folks are doing is an extremely important part of our economy,” he said. “PAMA is clearly a partner with the NTSB and other safety advocate organizations as we stand shoulder to shoulder pursuing our mutual goal of making the professional aviation maintenance community accident free. We will know we are completely successful when we meet together only in places like this for awards and trade expositions, rather than at accident sites trying to figure out what happened.”

Rosenker told the audience that, coming from a business background himself, he understood making a profit is one of the basic economic concepts that helped to make our nation great. “But I will not, and I know you will not, accept the philosophy that an airline or any other operator should cut corners in maintenance or operations to make that profit.”

Two of those receiving honors at the luncheon were particularly noteworthy (see sidebar). John Goglia, member of the NTSB, was given the PAMA/Flight Safety Foundation Joe Chase Award. Goglia is well known throughout the aviation industry for two things: he’s the only A&P technician ever to be appointed to the Board; and he always says what he thinks, politics notwithstanding.

Matt Thurber, editor of Aviation Maintenance, announced that AM’s “Time Out for Safety Award,” bestowed every December, would henceforth be known as the John J. Goglia Time Out for Safety Award “to inspire and encourage future generations of mechanics to do the right thing.” In making the announcement, Thurber told the audience, “John is the patron saint of doing it right in this business.”

The Richard C. Wellman Award, presented by AWAM, went to Mary Feik, aerospace education consultant. Feik was the first woman to win the FAA’s prestigious Charles Taylor Award, and she received the Wellman award for lifetime achievement in promoting women in aviation maintenance.

“I’ve had a wonderful career for almost 64 years,” Feik said. “My career began all the way back in the Air Corps,” she said. “One of the real highlights of my life was the 10 years I restored aircraft for the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Paul E. Garber Restoration and Storage Facility.” Feik worked on the Northrop Alpha and the 1910 Wiseman Cooke, one of the earliest aircraft to fly airmail. According to Feik, her premier restoration was the Smithsonian’s Spad XIII.

An Identity Problem?

PAMA’s annual business meeting attracted about 30 members. Association president Brian Finnegan gave a brief presentation about the state of PAMA, but much of the meeting consisted of interaction with members. He explained the database he inherited when he took office was riddled with inconsistencies. “It was very difficult to determine something as simple as how many current members we had. At one point we thought we had as many as 5,000, but now we know it’s a bit under 3,000,” Finnegan said. The new professional association management staff he brought in last year has resolved the database problems.

Finnegan said that to add value to membership, the board has initiated the PAMA Golden Eagle program. Its mission is to improve aerospace safety by recognizing maintenance professionals in their pursuit of continuous professional development. Recognition is designated as different levels, each of which presents progressively more difficult criteria. Member benefits include training and merchandise discounts, in addition to career- enhancement opportunities.

If comments at the annual meeting are representative of the general membership, the association continues to have an identity problem. One member said, “Frankly, I feel very underrepresented by PAMA. I work on small, single-engine airplanes and you have very little for me at this show. It’s hard for me to get an IA renewal,” he said. “The problem is I don’t know what PAMA is. People ask me what PAMA is going to do for them, and I honestly can’t give them a good answer.” Several members expressed similar thoughts, but it is important to note that the group represented only about 1 percent of the membership.

Finnegan responded by saying, “I am well aware of the difficulty in representing the individual piston-engine light GA aircraft technician in our industry. It is very difficult for us to do.” He said it is important to understand that the direction of the organization is set by the board of directors, not him.

“The regional directors, who are on the board, can drive this association as they wish. The chapters have the power to make the organization what they want within the limits of its resources.” However, Finnegan cautioned that there are limits.

Since eliminating the association’s full-time staff and contracting with a professional association management company, Finnegan is the only full-time paid member of the organization. “You want me on the road? You want me in Washington? It’s important to understand that we have only a half-million-dollar annual budget. Think about that. We have to establish priorities,” he said.

Referring to the comments about not representing “grass roots” mechanics, Finnegan said, “That’s part of the marketing challenge we have. We’re really about all technicians, but we come to a show like this that tends to be corporate/business aviation oriented, especially now that we’ve added GSE into the mix, and it starts to get a ‘big iron’ flavor. We cannot forget that the general aviation piston-engine people proliferate in the industry and are a very important aspect of our image.”

Finnegan said he’s already talked to the FAA about getting the agency on next year’s program to cover topics of broad interest. “There’s no doubt that our programming needs to evolve,” he said. One program that continues to grow and evolve is the PAMA Olympics.

Maintenance Olympics

The third annual PAMA Olympics demonstrated that the concept not only has merit but is also destined to enjoy widespread industry support. This year’s entrants were “The A Team,” sponsored by the Association of Women in Aviation Maintenance; Dassault Falcon Jet’s “Dassault Aircraft Services”; Delta TechOps’ “Torque It”; Midcoast Aviation’s “Arch Rivals”; Bombardier Learjet’s “Hot Wrenches”; and General Dynamics Aviation Services’ “General Dynamics.”

Winners of the Olympics were announced at the Chili Cook-off. First-place Olympic gold medals went to Midcoast Aviation Arch Rivals; second-place silver medals went to Delta TechOps; and third-place Bronze Medals to General Dynamics. Midcoast Aviation’s Vinnie Venditto received Troubleshooter of the Year honors and Thomas McGinnis of Federal Mogul was named TechnAthlete of the Year.

Hundreds of people attended the Chili Cook-off and used “money votes” for their favorite chili. More than $6,700 was raised for educational scholarships to be awarded by the Professional Aviation Maintenance Foundation. The coveted Tasters Choice Award, presented to the highest fundraiser, went to Gulfstream, whose team members also sold souvenirs to raise money. Other awards included Best Tasting Chili, to Professional Aircraft Accessories; Hottest Tasting Chili, to Professional Aircraft Accessories; Best Booth Presentation, to AMT magazine; and Questionable Contents Chili, to Bombardier Business Aviation Systems. Tasters speculated that ingredients included everything from woodchuck to peyote.

Parting Thoughts

“The career-development process is very interesting,” Finnegan observed as the show was drawing to a close. “It’s about how a person’s needs change as their career progresses. The young people here are asking what they need to do to excel in their careers. Early on, people are very internally focused. As they mature and develop professionally, they transition into wanting to see what they can do as a team to elevate their company. The interesting part is that when people move into the sunset years of their careers they focus on how they can help others. That’s what we need to tap into at the association level. We have so much work that needs to be done. We need to tap into the desire of our members to help others grow in their professions.”