New Maintenance Techs Short On Numbers, Skills

EBACE Convention News » 2014
While the aerospace industry faces difficulties finding enough suitably qualified and experienced engineers in coming years, there are bright spots where companies are investing heavily in the next generation-such as at SR Technics in Zurich, Switzerland which has supplied large, well-equipped workshops for training. (Photo: Ian Sheppard)
While the aerospace industry faces difficulties finding enough suitably qualified and experienced engineers in coming years, there are bright spots where companies are investing heavily in the next generation-such as at SR Technics in Zurich, Switzerland which has supplied large, well-equipped workshops for training. (Photo: Ian Sheppard)
May 18, 2014, 4:00 AM

In the annual announcements by Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer and other aircraft manufacturers about the half-million or so additional pilots who will be needed to fill cockpits over the next 20 years, often overlooked is the need for an even greater number of maintenance technicians: about 600,000 by 2031, according to Boeing’s most recent forecast. So if there is already, or will soon be, a shortage of qualified pilots, is there not also a shortfall in maintenance personnel? And not just in commercial aviation but business aviation and civil helicopter operations as well?

“The Boeing and Airbus projections are pretty accurate. Every one of our sales people is routinely asked, “Do you know anybody who would like to do the job?” said Mike Lee, director of maintenance training business development for FlightSafety International, the market leader in business aviation training for pilots and technicians. “Qualified people are just not available.”

About 86 percent of members of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) said they are having at least some difficulty finding qualified personnel, and 26 percent said that recruiting is “very difficult,” according to Brett Levanto, operations director for the Alexandria, Virginia-based trade group. The poll was conducted this spring at its annual repair symposium. “This year’s results echo the same key points from our 2012 survey,” Levanto noted.

If they can find the candidates, four out of five ARSA operators expect to add staff or at least hold steady over the next two years.

West Star Aviation, for example, has 36 openings for Gulfstream, Dassault Falcon, and avionics technicians at its new maintenance facility in East Alton, Illinois. Timco has several openings in the Southeast U.S. for A&P and avionics technicians, and company representatives have been visiting high schools, vocational schools and community colleges to create awareness of the profession. AAR Aircraft Services recently hosted a career day for sophomores and juniors from Miami, Florida, Central HighSchool, including the opportunity to interview for summer internships.

Websites Show Demand

Websites such as aviationjobsearch.com and bestaviation.net show hundreds of open maintenance positions, including roles in Europe supporting Bombardier, Cessna and Embraer aircraft, as well as AgustaWestland and Airbus helicopter models. Online aviation employment board operator JSfirm.com reports the skills most in demand in the corporate aviation sector are maintenance and avionics technicians, which account for 30 percent of expected hiring, whereas pilots represent only 7.5 percent.

“You hear in the news about the pilot shortage, but there is actually a greater shortage of technicians,” said Chuck Horning, chair of the Aviation Maintenance Science program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Overall, there’s a very strong demand. We have a placement rate at nearly 100 percent.”

The ARSA has put up its own recruiting website (www.avmro.com) to promote the profession, highlighting that there are more than 4,700 aircraft repair facilities worldwide employing roughly 473,000 people. “Aviation technicians work in an exciting, prestigious industry and…earn an average of $55,230 per year, putting aviation maintenance salaries ahead of most other technical industry jobs,” the site notes.

Enrollment in A&P schools has dropped as the aviation industry has lost much of its former glamour. “Aircraft are not seen as high-tech by Generation X and Y,” said FlightSafety’s Lee. The 40-year veteran said some of the lack of appeal is that few young people have hands-on experience with automobiles or tractors, as his generation did as teenagers.

Baby Boomers Retiring

The current maintenance workforce is aging and, similar to the pilot pool, many post-WWII baby boomers are reaching retirement age: in the U.S. the average age for maintenance techs is about 53, in Australia 58, and in Europe a relatively youthful 45. “In Europe, the shortage mostly concerns the maintenance mechanics, not maintenance engineers,” said Dassault spokesperson Vadim Feldzer.

The shortage extends to maintenance instructors as well. FlightSafety requires average aviation experience of 10 years with at least five years on heavy jets. Lee said it typically takes six to seven months to find a qualified instructor.

The shortage is not only in numbers but also in quality. Some operators complain that the graduates of maintenance schools don’t reach the skill levels of their predecessors. One industry veteran estimated only 30 percent of new grads had the requisite skills. Many schools lack the funds to purchase new-generation aircraft that can be dedicated for maintenance training, so there’s a disconnect between the older aircraft and components students learn on and the modern models and avionics systems they’re expected to service on the job.

FlightSafety now uses iPads for training, which enables the company to incorporate level-D flight simulator software into the classroom in the form of touch-screen-operated virtual cockpits. All maintenance manuals are also on the tablet. “This generation learns differently,” explained Lee. “They want to explore, as they do on the Internet. It’s not in their nature to listen to linear PowerPoint presentations.”

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djettun
on May 22, 2014 - 11:22am

Some of us Aerospace engineers stay abreast of the trends and see things changing more for the worse. Aerospace graduating engineers has been on the decline and was again the lowest in the engineering fields of a high demand industry and on top of that the mechanics that follow a certification program like FAA schools etc., like wise due to unstable industry especially with the airlines. With this a lot of Aerospace degreed engineers have followed the route of getting an FAA mechanic license like myself but then there's a drawback as well, over qualification which requires a debate at the hiring company on pay higher compensation regardless of the skills/experiences, just the pieces of paper that you have to certify you for your skills. In my case where I have worked as a special projects engineer for aviation giants like Boeing, General Dynamics and Lockheed as both an engineer and mechanic seems to get thrown out at interview discussions when I look for mechanic work, not interested in the higher degree in the prevailing field of aviation just the low ended pay scale for a mechanic that follows "Monkey See- Monkey Do" philosophy.  If companies would just educate their bottom line HR to really understand the tools of the trade in aviation academics, just maybe we will see not only increase in numbers but a better highly educated mechanic-engineer that enjoys the world of aviation as a total at the maintenance level.

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Bob Owens
on May 22, 2014 - 12:05pm

Its a little sickening hearing these companies complain about a so called "shortage" of people. Its a lie. That would be like me saying that there is a shortage of gasoline because I cant find any gasoline for $2/gallon.  You can find as much gas as you like if you are willing to pay $4/gallon.

Whenever these liars are asked what they pay they always come back with "We offer a competitive compensation package". Well obviously they dont, the fact is in real terms they are paying half what they paid 30 years ago and other industries are hiring away the younger mechanics with more than adequate skills.  

There are over 300,000 licensed aircraft mechanics out there, but most choose not to work in this industry. They choose not to work in this industry because people in this industry choose not to pay a competitive wage. If the wage was competitive then there would be no shortage because the number of people holding an A&P far exceeeds the number of A&P jobs out there.  

So yes there arent many willing to invest and remain in an industry where wages and benifits have been in a thirty year freefall, but thats not truly a shortage, if they offered pay that competed with the other industries that willingly hire A&P mechanics then they would have more than enough. 

Whats really sad is this lie is no doubt being put out there to sucker a lot of young people into investing a lot of money into getting their certifications only to find that there may be jobs, low paying ones, but no real shortage driving up compensation as they were told by school recruiters. What they will get from their investment is a career of dissapointments . The fact is I was told this same lie back in the 1970s. We spent our careers waiting for the fabled shortage to drive compensation up, instead we saw it freefall and it hasnt stopped yet.  With foreign competition, an FAA that calls Airlines and MRO's "customers" , a legal system that strips us of contractual rights and weak Unions its not likely to get any better any time soon. 

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Volunteer
on May 22, 2014 - 5:31pm

Does anyone ever call BS on these stories? I was chief of maintenance for a large corporate flight department. We had three really sharp young kids in another division of the company who wanted to be aviation mechanics. We brought them in, put them on second shift and sent them to A &P school during the day. At the end of their schooling they got their licenses and already had a couple of years experience working on our airplanes under the supervision of our mechanics. They became superb mechanics and all three went on to get their IAs as well. Yes, we paid them a salary and picked up their school costs. It was one of the best investments we ever made. Some people in this industry really need to pull their head out of their a$$.

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