New PAMA president charts course for organization

 - March 31, 2008, 6:01 AM

The Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) met some resistance when, in July 2005, it became an affiliate of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), but nearly three years on, time has shown the wisdom of the move. SAE brought large-association stability–and management expertise–to the table. In addition to financial depth and extensive staffing, the association also understands what’s required to run a volunteer organization. One of the key elements was helping PAMA’s board of directors focus on the crucial subjects of fiscal health and long-term growth requirements.

The PAMA board has restructured its operating procedures, and the organization has a new president, John Casker. Last February it launched the PAMA/ SAE Institute aviation maintenance and production certification program. Then-president Brian Finnegan moved from the organization’s president spot to director of professional certification at the SAE Institute.

“Aircraft maintenance technicians now have the opportunity to certify their skills,” Finnegan said. The new program initially offers two designations: non-certified individuals can earn the aviation maintenance specialist certification, and FAA-certified airframe and powerplant mechanics can earn the aviation maintenance engineer certification.

“This program is really the first of its kind,” he continued. “It establishes a broad system of technical career paths, it quantifies knowledge at many different skill levels, and it enables technicians to verify and document their skills.”

Finnegan said the certification exam will be available throughout the year at designated test centers but organizations looking to certify their employees in groups can also arrange for the exam to be administered in their own facility.

“The certification program is important to PAMA,” said Clark Gordon, PAMA board chairman. “Brian took on the development of the certification program in a big way and it was understood it would be a full-time job for him when implemented.” With Finnegan’s impending transition to a new role, the PAMA board decided to tap SAE’s resources for a replacement.

“Our new governance policy structures board and staff in such a way that there’s accountability,” Gordon told AIN. “In the past [former president] Brian Finnegan would tell the board what he wanted to do for the upcoming year and we’d make decisions. Under the new system, the chairman and board are responsible for the direction of PAMA.”

Gordon said the board’s goals now focus on revenue streams, membership retention and growth, enhancing communications within the organization, and building and maintaining chapter structure. “These are broken into action items that go to the various committees made up of PAMA members for implementation,” he said.

New PAMA president Casker “has strong management skills with a lot of organization administrative experience, including strong background in trade shows and sponsorship programs,” Gordon said. “And as a long-standing SAE employee, John understands how the system works and how to maximize it for our benefit.

He was instrumental in restructuring how the PAMA board operates. He was a perfect choice for PAMA president.”

While Casker doesn’t have an aviation background, he does have more than 30 years with SAE in various roles, including managing membership services, membership development, both professional membership and student membership, managing trade shows, developing sponsorship packages and implementing SAE’s development around the world, including the formation of affiliate societies in Brazil, India and the UK.

Organization Management
“I told the Board during my interview for the position that whether they hire me or someone else, I strongly believed they had to have someone with extensive association management experience,” Casker said. “The membership has the technical expertise; they should be setting the goals and agenda. The president should be a manager with the experience necessary to implement them.”

More than two-thirds of Casker’s years with SAE have been in the development and support of SAE’s local chapters and student clubs. “The Board and I agree that a good portion of my time and PAMA resources will be spent strengthening the chapter network,” he explained. “Therefore, I will be visiting all active chapters to learn how we can improve our service and support to chapters and their officers. I will also help chapter leaders identify ways to improve their activities and service to members.”

Casker continued, “Most members can’t attend national meetings so they rely on their local chapter to hold programs and activities that meet their needs. Among them are the IA renewal events, but members also need additional technical information, opportunities for networking and opportunities to meet vendors and discuss the latest products and services.

“We are looking into chapter officer training seminars, perhaps in conjunction with our regional symposiums, and are evaluating the possibility of a speaker’s bureau from which chapters could select individuals who are supported by their companies to make presentations on the company’s latest technologies,” Casker said.

He also has strong feelings about student membership. “Student members are important to PAMA because it is at this early stage in the technician’s career that networking, career resources and mentoring play such an important role. Our future local and national leaders could very well be in school right now.”

Another area Casker intends to address is corporate partnerships. “I will be proposing to the PAMA board that we consider developing relationships with companies that go beyond the current company membership model. PAMA has the resources to provide companies with more exposure opportunities to the membership and the industry. We can increase our corporate partners’ exposure and alignment with PAMA and enhance their position in the industry through a variety of communication methods available only through PAMA and its association partner, SAE International.”

Casker concluded, “Overall, PAMA is about its members. One of the high-level, long-term goals of the Board is to help raise the image of the aviation maintenance technician in the eyes of the industry and the flying public.

“A PAMA member shared with me his frustration about when passengers leave the airplane they thank the pilot for a safe flight and don’t realize the role the mechanic played in making it a safe flight. I want the flying public to understand and appreciate that for every pilot flying an airplane safely, there is a professional team of mechanics who have worked expertly and tirelessly to ensure that the pilot has a safe airplane to fly.”