NBAA maintenance management conference

 - June 9, 2008, 7:23 AM

The 23rd annual NBAA Maintenance Management Conference, held April 15 through 18, was by any measure a significant success. The weather couldn’t have been nicer except for some unusually stiff winds that kicked up the Daytona Beach surf and made the golf outing a bit more challenging. Despite the dates’ overlapping Aviation Week’s MRO 2008 Conference and Exhibition, the turnout shattered the MMC’s best record.

“We’ve tripled the exhibitors and more than doubled the attendance over last year,” John Solito, MMC Committee chairman, told AIN. The final attendance count was 363 people traveling from 37 states and the District of Columbia. The event also drew attendees from Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Greece and Nigeria.

In his welcoming address Jim Janaitis, aircraft maintenance manager for IBM Flight Operations and NBAA maintenance committee chairman, explained that the committee was heavily vested in industry representation and participation.

“It isn’t about what the committee thinks industry should do, it’s about what industry thinks the committee should be doing,” he said. “We are focused on issues such as reliability and maintainability programs, Tracs (see sidebar), regulatory concerns, operational standards development and, of course, the maintenance management conference.” Janaitis also said the committee is involved in training and advanced education such as Project Bootstrap and the National Center for Aircraft Technician Training (NCATT).

Project Bootstrap, developed by Brad Townsend, flight manager of maintenance for Sprint Nextel, is a program fostering the development of the aviation maintenance technical engineer–a combination A&P, IA and avionics technician certificate.

NCATT, a National Science Foundation-funded project serving the aviation and aerospace industry, is governed by industry and operated as a non-profit entity. NCATT’s mission is to provide a forum through which subject matter experts from industry, government and education develop technical knowledge and skill standards. NCATT’s aircraft electronics technician certification exam was offered after the final conference session.

The Future of Maintenance

For the second year in a row I had the honor of working with Keith McGann of FlightSafety International as cohosts for the conference. In addition to backing Keith up introducing speakers and generally keeping things on a light note, I also developed and chaired a session on “The AMT in the 21st Century.”

The session reflected my growing concern about the fate of the maintenance technician. After giving a brief overview I had four nationally respected individuals address each of the issues. Rick Ochs of Spirit Avionics discussed Project Bootstrap.

Charles Horning, associate department chair of the Aviation Maintenance Science Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, discussed how to recruit students into the A&P program then direct them into business aviation. He also stressed the need for industry to support such programs with donations of equipment and human resources.

Mark Dietrich, aviation manager for Chalk Hill Estate Winery, spoke about the Tracs program he developed. The Technical Reward and Career Scholarship program awards donated technical training programs to A&P mechanics, especially those who are still in A&P school or early in their career, to give them business aviation exposure or help them jump-start their career.

One of the industry concerns is retaining qualified technicians. To that end Aaron Hilkemann, president of Duncan Aviation, explained why his company is so successful at employee retention and has second- and third-generation employees.

“What makes Duncan Aviation unique is we really do care about our employees. We focus on listening and communicating to our employees, and helping them build their career,” he said. “Our corporate leadership style is based on the concept that management works for the employees. It’s management’s job to be sure that the employees have the equipment, training and motivation to do their jobs. Everyone works as a team and we stress that teamwork and attitude is as important as technical knowledge.”

Hilkemann said he can teach someone the technical knowledge but can’t teach them to be a team player. “That’s one of the major things we look for in a pre-employment interview. Fortunately many of our new hires are referred to us by existing employees. There’s something of a built-in prequalification process,” he said.

Once again Sandi Wirtz, NBAA director of seminars, and Dina Green, senior manager of seminars, put together an outstanding social program. They always find top-notch golf courses for the pre-conference golf outing and first-class entertainment for the evening social for attendees and spouses. This year attendees had exclusive use of Nascar’s famous Daytona USA for an evening. The event included dinner with entertainment provided by Duncan Aviation’s employee band followed by an IMAX theater Nascar documentary then free run of the facility. Guests were given the opportunity to compete against one another driving Nascar simulators and teams could compete at changing a tire in a simulated pit.

As the conference drew to a close, Steve King assumed the role of 2009 MMC committee chairman and commented, “I think we’ve developed the right mix which will carry us forward from now on. Word of mouth is important and this year, for the first time, many of the vendors did mass e-mails to their customers saying they were going to be at the MMC and were looking forward to meeting them here. I think that level of support from the exhibitors had a significant impact on our attendance. We’re already talking about doubling what we’ve done this year and intend to have the facilities to accommodate the growth.”

The 2009 Maintenance Management Conference is slated for the week of April 13 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel in New Orleans.