Determination best describes the mood of this year’s Aviation Services & Suppliers SuperShow attendees. The event, held March 26 to 28 in Indianapolis, is the joint Professional Aviation Maintenance Association and National Air Transportation Association annual show.
Opening day brought a snowstorm and high winds, with air traffic delays and at least one interstate into the city shut down for more than two hours. Day two saw freezing rain that covered everything with a thick layer of ice, making driving more treacherous than the day before. Despite the weather, PAMA registered more than 600 maintenance symposium attendees out of an overall AS3 attendance of more than 3,000 PAMA and NATA members and vendors.
PAMA members who braved the elements were rewarded with plenty to do. There were half a dozen day-long professional development seminars, more than 60 hour-long workshops, (most of which counted toward IA renewal), an Aviation Maintenance Olympics, an awards luncheon, an extensive exhibit floor, the traditional PAMA Chili Cookoff fundraiser and the PAMA annual meeting.
“We’re continuing to struggle to stay afloat in this economy,” Brian Finnegan, PAMA’s president, told more than 40 PAMA members attending the annual membership meeting. His message was frank, portraying an organization still struggling to gain industry acceptance.
Maintenance professionals continue to grapple with whether the chicken or egg comes first. At approximately 5,000 members, the organization is too small to carry serious political clout. But without the clout it can’t seem to attract and retain enough members to get the attention of Washington insiders.
Members expressed the desire to be in the same league as AOPA and EAA, but wishing doesn’t make it so. Despite an industry-wide concern by aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) that they are not appropriately recognized as professionals, it appears as a group they don’t seem to be sufficiently farsighted to join the only organization that could elevate their status and compensation.
Needs To Grow
PAMA chairman Dick Wellman opened the meeting by saying, “PAMA is a 30-year-old organization, and in my view it has not grown very much. Our membership is in the thousands and we need to be in the tens of thousands to really make an impact. One of the reasons I came into the organization was to see if we could expand the membership and get a little farther into the airlines so we could have the numbers that would really make a difference in Washington. That hasn’t happened.”
PAMA has gained 1,200 new members since last August, but total membership marginally reflects a gain as it has been offset by membership losses. The organization has recently added three new student chapters and is cultivating more.
“The honeymoon is about over,” Finnegan said, referring to his two years in office and the flat membership list. “It’s time for you to tell us what you want.” Finnegan said the current organizational structure could easily support a membership as large as 30,000. To their credit, Finnegan and a handful of staff members do a daunting amount of work.
The symposium itself is a testimony to what can be done by a small group determined to get the job done. But at what price? At the show Finnegan looked overworked, and his two affable assistants, Christina Vloet and Torrey Hairston, were constantly rushing around, dealing with everything.
“We’re the only voice for the [maintenance] industry,” Finnegan stressed. He challenged members to be recruiters by pointing out the benefits of membership, such as MX magazine and a new member discount for Snap-on and ATI tools. In addition, Snap-on has agreed to buy a student membership for every student who purchases a Snap-on student excellence package tool kit. Finnegan said that alone would generate another $20,000 to $30,000 annually for the organization. Other member benefits include a legal services plan and a new arrangement with AirLog Imaging to help members organize their paperwork.
Finnegan also addressed changes in membership dues. PAMA has gone from a weekly membership renewal program to an October renewal sequence for all members. “Quite frankly,” he said, “we’re short of staff. To process 300 to 400 renewals a month is a huge task.” An October renewal system allows the organization to hire temporary help once a year and eliminate an ongoing expense.
A more controversial change is the organization’s recent dues increase from $35 to $70 a year. Finnegan explained it had been possible for individuals to join a local chapter but not be a member of the national organization. “The system has now been changed so everyone joins the national organization and affiliates with a local chapter if they wish. Local chapters get $15 of the membership dues back.”
Approximately 75 percent of the members are affiliated with one of the 33 chapters, while the rest are members-at-large. “Members want to be part of an organization that represents their political interests and provides the kind of benefits available only through a large national organization,” he said.
The PAMA awards luncheon honored excellence and professionalism among AMTs. The keynote speaker was Larry Flynn, Gulfstream Aerospace’s senior vice president of aircraft services and president of General Dynamics Aviation Services. He addressed the training question of how the industry handles growth while meeting customers’ changing needs.
Flynn cautioned against equating recent near-term market adjustments and over-production with the long-term needs of the industry. He said the demand for technical training will be greater than ever before because of industry growth and the influx of new technology and products. He noted there are three major training issues facing today’s industry.
First, he said, technical personnel have less time to spend in classrooms and industry must develop ways to meet their training needs in a mobile environment. Flynn emphasized the flexibility of Internet-based delivery systems. The second issue he identified is the need for increased use of simulation, which has long been a mainstay of pilot training. He suggested that more feedback from the business aviation fleet could add an ever-increasing level of realism to the simulated training environment. Finally, Flynn called for hands-on, task-oriented training rather than an all-theoretical classroom environment.
The Gulfstream v-p also recommended that promotion and salaries be more closely tied to training. The relationship would more fairly reward individual achievement and at the same time bolster the public’s awareness of the AMT’s status as a professional. Similarly, Flynn praised PAMA’s formal recognition of individual achievement and similar programs sponsored by the FAA, NBAA, NATA and other organizations. At that point Finnegan and PAMA manager of government and technical affairs David Schober announced award winners (see sidebar).
This year PAMA initiated the first Aviation Maintenance Olympics. As in previous competitions, individual technicians competed in a “TechnAthlon” requiring data research, hardware identification and safety wiring. There was also a standalone troubleshooting skill competition for individuals. What makes this year’s event different is that eight teams of three maintenance technicians each competed against one another in events such as FAR and data research, rigging, tube bending, BNC connector fabrication, hardware identification, safety wiring and troubleshooting. The events were both practical and cleverly designed to put the teams to the test.
The overall first-place team’s name was inscribed on a traveling trophy to be displayed in their facility for the next year, and each member of the top team received a specially designed gold medal. Second-place team members received silver medals and the third-place team members received bronze medals.
First place went to Bombardier’s “Hot Wrenches.” The second-place team was the “Maintenance Craftsmen of Orlando,” composed of Delta Air Lines line mechanics who had joined together to form a local PAMA chapter. Third place went to the “Arch Rivals” of Midcoast Aviation in St. Louis. Pratt & Whitney’s “Jet Jockeys” won the appearance award for having the best team uniforms. “TechnAthlete of the Year” went to David Mills of Duncan Aviation’s Battle Creek, Mich. facility, and Bob Haines of Delta Air Lines earned the “Troubleshooter of the Year” award.