How students from Minnesota’s NCTC pulled themselves up and refused to accept closure of their school.

Many mechanics are not aware that both the FAA and industry folks are currently reviewing the Part 147 Aviation Maintenance Technician School rule. This project ends in December and then its findings go into FAA rulemaking. The joint industry and FAA project is designed to bring A&P training into the 21st century. My best guess is the new Part 147 requirements will be out by January 2011.

I know what you are thinking. “Big deal! I got my tickets, why should I worry about my old A&P school and some future FAA rulemaking?”

The state of Part 147 schools
You should worry because we are losing A&P schools faster than at any time in the past. According to the FAA’s VIS record-keeping system, the number of “active” Part 147 schools dropped from 165 in January 2007 to 128 in July 2008. This is a net loss of 37 schools over an 18-month period. Anytime a profession loses its most valued resources, its centers of training, over time it will cease being a profession and become downgraded to a job that anyone off the street can do. Imagine the impact on aviation safety when that day happens.

I have been an A&P mechanic since 1968 and I tend to worry about such things that threaten my chosen profession. So, armed with a simple 10 question survey, I went out to the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) convention in Las Vegas in April of this year. After I conducted my simple survey of Part 147 school representatives, I discovered two facts. First, all Part 147 schools that are privately owned and operated are doing well to extremely well, with high student populations and their bottom lines in the black.

On the other hand, many state/publically run schools, with tuitions that cost thousands of dollars less than the private Part 147 schools, are in trouble. Student populations are low, they are laying off instructors, and their bottom line is in the red. If the tuition costs are less, and the instructors and facilities are comparable to private industry schools, why is there a decline when 100 percent of their student graduates are placed in aviation jobs?

Still a need for mechanics
During my survey I asked representatives from state-run schools why. The fast and easy reply I got was the airlines are in deep trouble and potential students read everyday about airline lay-offs, buy-outs, price of fuel, and mergers. So why should the schools try to sugarcoat the profession if the industry is going to hell in a hand basket and no students show up at their door?

I had to agree with them that our airlines are basket cases right now — but there is another side of the aviation maintenance coin.

There is a fast growing job market in aviation maintenance that goes begging for mechanics. The large Part 145 repair stations like Falcon Jet and Gulfstream need mechanics right now. Also, a lot of mechanics in today’s workforce are part of the baby-boomer population. This means that retirements will increase over the next five years. Don’t forget, manufacturers like Boeing and Lockheed/Martin are going to continue to need well-trained aviation maintenance professionals.

What’s the problem?
So besides the troubles with the airlines, what else is a contributing factor to the decline of state/publically run Part 147 schools? Of the school representatives that I talked to, I have identified three problem areas on why these schools are failing.

There was a universal complaint from the Part 147 instructors who I interviewed at the conference that their state/public school administrators did not understand what needs to be in place for the Part 147 course to be successful. They also believed that their administrators had a bias, be it real or imagined, against teaching blue-collar courses because these “dirty hands” courses did not fit into a traditional “college” environment. There were also complaints that Part 147 instructors were not considered to be on the same par as those who taught traditional “college” courses. Obviously, this is a morale issue, meaning that both sides are at fault and that both sides had better find a solution.

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