Member Editorial: Maintenance Workforce Demands to Spike as Emerging Technologies Deploy and Necessitate Skills Sets Change
ATEC is happy to provide a venue for members to share thoughts and ideas. This month we welcome the following editorial from Stephen Ley, Associate Professor at the School of Aviation Sciences for Utah Valley University. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ATEC. Feel free to contact the author directly with questions or comments. To publish an editorial on this website, email email@example.com.
While most reports on urban mobility and unmanned cargo portray an optimistic picture for dramatically changing the aviation industry, few have focused on workforce challenges they bring to an already challenged industry. Despite the Covid-19 economic impacts on the global maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) industry, observers see a very bright future for those on the AMT career path.
In fact, I believe, we are on the edge of a technological explosion of new technologies and modalities of air passenger and cargo transportation which will lead to opportunities for new career entry, growth, and advancement. In addition, we are on the edge of an explosion in space transportation which will also require robust MRO capabilities.
Urban Air Mobility (UAM), Large Unmanned Air Cargo (LUCA), and the commercialization of space, are the new growth markets in technology whose integration into our day to day lives will result in an expansion of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), service center, and point of operation maintenance (POM), capabilities and requirements. These technologies are considered ‘disruptors’ in that they change the status quo in how we integrate, consume, operate, and sustain these new modes of air (and space) transportation.
According to the NASA Urban Air Mobility Market Study completed in November 2018, Air Metro flight services (which constitute public transportation utilizing predetermined routes and regular schedules and stops) can be in place and profitable by 2030, with Entry Into Service to occur progressively prior to this. This means that autonomous air vehicles with 2-5 passengers in a eVTOL (electric powered Vertical and Takeoff) configuration will require service, maintenance, and return to service at the point of operation in order to maintain the quick turn-around and economic viability, and safety of those operations.
As a result of these types of operations, vehicle airworthiness certification standards will need to evolve with the technology that will be deployed in service to include electric propulsion, autonomous systems for Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), navigation, and flight systems. This will require a qualified and certified airframe and maintenance technician with elevated skills beyond the current standards defined by FAR Part 147. This gives our industry, our technician schools and the FAA the impetus to evolve its curriculum to meet this need.
Uber Elevate is leading the pack when it comes to aggressively evaluating the social, economic, technology and infrastructure impact of the deployment of both Air Metro and Air Taxi (unscheduled, on-demand, point to point air transportation) passenger VLOL flight operations. Clearly private venture companies, as well as well known aircraft manufacturers are pursuing this market. Over 200 aircraft are currently under either design, development, prototyping, and actual flight testing. As an example look at Boeing’s air taxi, the Bell Nexus, the Volocopter, XTI Trifan 600, and the Italdesign and Airbus Pop Up. All of these are viable technologies. All will required new, high skilled technicians to support them.
Large Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (LUCA) are currently under design, development and flight testing. The integration and operation of these aircraft will be a watershed moment in our industry. According to Air Cargo News, the global value of trade goods has increased from $10 trillion in 2005 to $17.5 trillion in 2017. The global drone logistics market generated $24 million in revenue in 2018 with projects to grow revenue to $1.6 billion by 2027 through consolidations and expansion of new technologies. New start-up aircraft companies are pursuing the niche market in earnest. These include Saberwing, Elroy Air, and Nautilus as examples. These are viable projects and some are already in flight testing.
New autonomous air cargo aircraft means an expanded and diversely dispersed fleet which will need to be maintained, inspected, and returned to service by qualified technicians further expanding the opportunities within the A&P career field.
The commercialization of space is already successfully expanding within the United States. Space X has been launching unmanned payloads into space very successfully, and affordably. Recent examples include the Starlink satellite delivery launches. SpaceX has now entered the crewed launch market by successfully placing 2 astronauts into space to rendezvous with the International Space Station via their Crew Dragon rocket technology. All of these launch vehicles are reusable and require qualified technicians to maintain them, make repairs and return them to the launch pad.
Additional companies are also pursuing the space payload launch services market as well. These include Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and Boeing. These companies also provide skilled A&P technicians the career opportunity to support the manufacture and testing of these lift vehicles and rocket propulsion systems.
Further research needs to be accomplished to both quantify and qualify the impact these new technologies will have to the aerospace industry and how these air and space vehicles will be maintained and sustained through their entire life cycle. Clearly opportunities for A&P technicians do exist and will continue to develop as these new air and space vehicle technologies are integrated into our day to day lives, and not in the too distant future.
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