When I wrote a story on the potential shortage of skilled labor, primarily among A&Ps, I had no idea it would draw 18 replies in the four days following its appearance in AINonline.
Boiled down, it was a look at the potential for a shortage of highly skilled workers, from A&Ps to completion and refurbishment specialists, as the industry slowly emerges from the recession and companies begin to ramp up.
Some of the responses were complimentary. Some were not. And some who took the time to comment expressed an unexpected level of frustration with the industry, and their career choices.
One particular individual took advantage of the comment box to say, “Airlines still dump their techs like old garbage when the first money crunch comes.” He added that the issue in the industry now is “not getting somebody, [but] getting somebody to work for nothing and then take the heat when something goes wrong.”
But he concluded, “Boost the pay and the issue will fix itself.”
Yet another, “finally retired,” individual looked back, and recalled, “The only remotely decent jobs I had were in the U.S. Air Force and the engine manufacturer service rep positions.” He advised readers to “go to a decent state university, get an aeronautical engineering degree…then join the Air Force of the Navy or Coast Guard and stay in as long as you can. Then leverage that experience to get employed with a good airframe or engine manufacturer.”
Don’t go to work for an airline, he advised, as it will “almost certainly go bankrupt while you’re there.”
One respondent said that while his passion for the industry spanning 30 years does not waver, he had made it clear to his children that “this field will not offer stability and pay to raise a family and certainly not on a one-income household.”
A director of maintenance working on two business jets—one large-cabin and one midsize-cabin aircraft—claimed to be making about the same money as he was 12 years ago on his first DOM job. “The market is designed to work around a new crop of lemmings coming online every five to seven years. Ten generations from now, you will be reading stories about the ‘shortages of experienced spacecraft and power plant technicians—in the Milky Way.’”
A reader with 30 years of experience but who is no longer in aviation said part of the problem is that industry leaders have an embedded mentality that technicians are not really skilled labor. “So it’s off to the land of computers, IT and project management, and let the corporate and commercial operators fend for themselves.”
“How many mechanics who get their A&P [license] are still in the industry after five years?” asked another reader, also with more than 30 years in the industry. He cited the main reasons for an A&P shortage as low wages, long hours, industry volatility, layoffs and lack of respect. “[It’s] not a career I would recommend anyone pursuing. There are so many better ways to earn a living, use technology and support your family, all without having to put your license on the line every day.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics is forecasting the need for A&Ps to be flat (about a 7-percent increase) over the next 10 years, pointed out a reader. And he added, with that and with the number of A&P schools closed due to low enrollment, and a decade of upheaval in the airline industry, “I think its anyone’s guess as to what the future looks like.”
There may indeed be a shortage of these highly skilled aviation professionals in the coming months. Perhaps even for years, as the industry slowly recovers from layoffs, furloughs and attrition during the recession.
Based on the responses above, not a few who left have simply lost faith in what they thought would be a job that paid well and offered a degree of dignity and respect in an industry they loved.
The business aviation industry would do well to take the above comments to heart and make some changes to ensure that future generations of pilots and passengers continue to fly with confidence that the airplane will get them there and back.