Industry Making Progress Filling Aviation Maintenance Technician Gap, But Pace Of Success Must Accelerate To Avoid Shortages, Report Finds
The aviation maintenance industry continues to face both internal and external challenges as it strives to ensure it has enough technicians to keep aircraft flying in the coming years, including excess capacity at technical schools and the perceived attraction of other industries over aviation. But efforts to reverse these trends are gaining traction, a new status report on the report the aviation maintenance technician (AMT) career pipeline concludes.
The report, based on data collected by Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC), found that mechanics continue to retire faster than they are being replaced. ATEC’s model projects that, absent a shift in pipeline development and retirement trends, the mechanic population will decrease 5% in the next 15 years.
New entrants make up 2% of the population annually, while 30% of the workforce is at or near retirement age—figures that are similar to findings in the 2017 ATEC Pipeline Report. Meanwhile, forecasts by the U.S. government and Boeing continue to forecast a need for thousands of additional mechanics in the next 10-20 years.
Among the most obvious solutions: increase enrollment at AMT schools. Today, only 1 in 2 seats in technical schools are taken, meaning that an additional 17,000 students can be accommodated immediately without any school expansion. Compounding the issue: a high rate of graduates go on to use their skills in non-aviation jobs, meaning leakage from within the pipeline is also an issue.
The 2018 report offered evidence that efforts to reverse these trends are paying off, however. In 2017, the number of students choosing non-aviation jobs over their aviation counterpart dropped by nearly half over the previous year, to 13%. More good news: seventy percent of A&P students are taking the FAA mechanic exam upon graduation, a 10-point increase over the previous two years.
While the data suggests progress on several fronts, industry must do more to both replace retiring workers and accommodate anticipate demand. The study shows that 30% of the mechanic population is age 60 or above, a 3% increase from last year. Combined with Boeing’s projection of 189,000 additional technicians needed by 2037 to support North America’s commercial and business aviation needs, AMTS—which produce most of new-entrant mechanics—will have to increase their combined output by 30% to meet demand.
“While industry is making progress, there is clearly more work to do,” said Crystal Maguire, ATEC executive director. “Schools are ramping up recruitment activities and expect enrollment to increase. But there is still significant opportunity for industry employers to help define career paths and attract more students into the pipeline—students that they will need as technicians in the coming years.”
Attracting more female candidates continues to be a major opportunity. The FAA airman database includes 293,000 certificated mechanics. Females make up 2.4% of the certificate mechanic workforce—a figure that has been constant for 15 years.
Successful efforts to fill the pipeline will create other challenges. Hiring and maintaining qualified instructors is the number one threat to increased enrollments, the report found. Negative perceptions and a lack of career awareness is also adversely impacting student recruitment efforts, lending further credence to the idea that the time is ripe for development of a national campaign to increase knowledge and understanding of aviation technical careers.
“There are many effective programs that connect employers and schools, and provide exposure for the aviation maintenance field as a stable, technologically advanced career,” said ATEC President and Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics Director of Campus Operations Gary Hoyle. “However, there is an opportunity to make these programs even stronger, by supporting them with an over-arching national effort, led by industry stakeholders.”
ATEC is involved in several grassroots efforts that connect aspiring technicians with employers and to spread the word of aviation’s value as a career path. Its latest is the Choose Aerospace effort (www.chooseaerospace.org), a coalition of industry stakeholders dedicated to a broad outreach campaign to quantify staffing needs and promote aerospace technical careers. ATEC also hold a series of briefings and networking events at its annual conference, scheduled for March 17-20 in Wichita. More information at www.atec-amt.org/annual-conference.
Other notable findings provided in the report:
Download the Pipeline Report at www.atec-amt.org/pipeline-report.
As reported in the recent ATEC Pipeline Report, 30% of A&P school graduates do not take the exam necessary to receive a mechanic certificate. Access to practical testing examiners was identified as one of the top barriers for students seeking FAA mechanic certification. An ATEC contingency recently joined FAA officials to discuss one possible solution to the testing bottleneck.
The agency is considering organization designation authorization (ODA) for practical testing. That means that a school (or other properly certificated entity) could create its own quality system to manage a group of designated mechanic examiners (DME), alleviating the need for FAA oversight of each individual DME.
The system would free up FAA resources while expanding the DME workforce. FAA officials in charge of the potential expansion to the existing ODA program will present more information at the upcoming ATEC Annual Conference.
For more information, see related story that published in the December edition of Aviation Week's InsideMRO, FAA Considers Organization Designation Authorization For Practical Testing.
The Aircraft Electronics Association will award more than 20 scholarships totaling more than $125,000 for the 2019-20 school year to students pursuing a career in avionics or aircraft maintenance, as well as students from AEA member companies.
Since its inception, the AEA scholarship program has awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships. Numerous awards are available, ranging from $1,000 to more than $35,000 each.
The deadline to submit applications for the 2019-20 academic year is April 1, 2019.
Learn more at https://aea.net/educationalfoundation/scholarships.asp.
Stay tuned for updates on everything ATEC members need to know as well as ways that you can help the council and the AMTS community.