AIN Blog: Industry Eyes Potential A&P Shortage

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Maintenance techs working
The industry faces a potential technician shortage.
January 23, 2012 - 5:16pm

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.

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Chris Coombs
on January 26, 2012 - 7:04pm

Having worked at an OEM, a factory owned service center, an authorized service center and now a private company I can equate the issue to my time in the service. The people who want to make good, the ones you would want to hang around, get fed up with the poor management, lack of pay and respect. I watched numerous experienced tech's leave the service because they had become fed up with the military culture of promote the person instead of correct the issue. In the aviation field you see some of the same thing with the quality people leaving because their tired of fighting to make the system where they work better, to be winners. There are only so many fast food joints in this world so your stuck with the incompetent people running a shop by the simple fact of attrition and longevity. The ones who get the job done day in and day out get worn down and tired of carrying the load and they look else where. You see what was once a good shop go bad and its business drop off for a few years until they hire a go getter who turns things around, is good with customers and knows his job. Cyclic

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LouE VipJetTech
on January 26, 2012 - 10:07pm

I believe the formentioned.Is that company's will realize that key employee's is what makes a Quality Product.So to retain Techs .I see RATE'S going up .Leadership is Key as well if you have a Managment treat Techs with "PROFESSIONALISEM" then they will stick around. Yes company's are restructuring; going through some growing "PAINS".Now is the time to act.When you have an aircraft siting their and no one(EXP.TECH'S) to work it ,then you have a project off to a bad start.Their comes delays and everyone is jumping thru hoops.
AVIATION is stressful but it can be done through "TEAM WORK" Reward the Tech. A good morning is a good start.Remember when you don't have time to do it right the first time, then when will you have the time do it right the second time!

LouE VIPJETTech 25yrs
www.vipjettech.com

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Doctor Needlube
on January 27, 2012 - 12:37am

I've become fully convinced that, like the economy in general, nothing will be changed until there is a complete and total meltdown of the economic system, and the aircraft maintenance infrastructure. The challenge will be to survive the 5-10 years of upheaval.

The recent NBAA "Business Aviation Insider" had an article, "Is it time to hire a Dedicated Maintenance Person?". In it, a chief pilot considering such a move said that he would have his mechanic "haul brush around the airport" when he "wasn't busy"..........yeah dude, just make sure you put that in your ad, when you start looking.

Do your pilots "haul brush when they aren't busy?" That's what I thought....

I put guys like this along with those Chief Pilots that come up to you and say "Hey, we've got this guy that fixes stuff at the hangar, and works on the tug/vehicles; we've promised him that we are going to help him get his A&P......waddaya say you sign him off to take the tests in a few months?"

What I want to say is..... "Yeah, as soon as you sign me off as an ATP....."

You magazine types really need to stop hanging around all of these managers, consultants, and "industry leader" types, move out to BFE, Flyover, USA, and see what kind of giant Charlie-Foxtrot this business has become. It isn't just aviation, it's any kind of technical field.

Everybody (especially our much vaunted "management/creative class") just assumes that this stuff fixes itself. When it does actually break, they all think that every OEM and MRO has staff just sitting around, waiting for them to call and drop everything else to handle their AOG, and that every airport in the country has a giant warehouse stocked with parts, also waiting for AOGs.

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