Torqued: Aviation Maintenance Skills Competition Enters 10th Year

 - April 5, 2017, 6:00 AM

If you’re reading this at the beginning of April, you may still have time to sign up for the MRO Americas conference being held in Orlando from April 25 to 27 at the Orange County Convention Center. This is the premier aviation maintenance conference in the U.S., in my opinion, and the attendance shows that others feel this way as well.

There are, of course, many reasons thousands and thousands of maintenance executives and professionals attend the MRO Americas annual conference if they are involved in aviation maintenance. The exhibitions and noted speakers on the latest trends in aviation maintenance are, of course, a huge draw. The opportunity to network with industry professionals, as well as the FAA and the military, is another major reason to attend. But for me, the highlight will be the annual aviation maintenance skills competition, which is being held for its third consecutive year in conjunction with the MRO Americas Conference. Yes, I am somewhat biased. I’ve been supporting the Aerospace Maintenance Competition—run by the Aerospace Maintenance Council (AMC)—since it began 10 years ago, and for the last three years I’ve been its president.

The AMC is a nonprofit organization that promotes and supports aerospace maintenance skills. The main focus of the council is encouraging and enhancing aviation maintenance technician skills by holding an annual three-day competition where five-person teams showcase their skills in competition with teams from all over the U.S. and eight other countries. This year we have teams from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, China, Great Britain, Guyana, Mexico and Pakistan. It takes tremendous knowledge and skill to be an aircraft mechanic and safely maintain aircraft; this rigorous competition tests that knowledge and skill and rewards the best of the best.

This year we have almost all the major airlines sending teams to the competition. We are proud to have tremendous representation from our military. Teams will be competing from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and (sending two teams this year) the Coast Guard. Of critical importance to the future of aviation maintenance is, of course, grooming the next generation of aircraft maintenance technicians. We are delighted to have 22 teams from 17 different colleges in the competition. This year we even have our first school team from overseas, from Guyana. 

It’s a significant expense for many of these colleges to send teams, but some feel the competition is so important that they field more than one team, among them Embry-Riddle, Eastern Florida, Middle Tennessee State, Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics and South Seattle College. Last year, the first place winning college team was from Utah State (in addition to other prizes, the school won a $10,000 boroscope); second and third places went to West LA College in California and Broward College in Florida, respectively.  Participation is truly nationwide. 

The teams can register in one of five categories: airlines; general aviation; military; repair and manufacturing; and school and space. Leading aerospace companies provide testing equipment such as an aircraft engine and boroscopes. There are 28 events, with 27 tests, in subjects such as non-destructive testing, composite repair, fuel quality, pitot static, cable rigging, fiber optics and ADS-B troubleshooting. The criteria for the tests are rigorous.

The AMC event is run in association with Snap-On, a long-time sponsor and supporter of the skills competition which, among other things, provides $75,000 in tools as prizes to winning teams. Sponsors are critical to every facet of the event and many contribute in ways too numerous to list here. I do want to mention the significance of one donation because it helps fund the travel of our college teams, the future of our industry. For the second year in a row, American Airlines has contributed one million miles, which allows 15 to 20 students to travel to the event without charge.

I hope I’ve convinced at least a few of you to attend this year’s MRO Americas Convention. If you are already attending, please stop by and cheer on our teams.