It has been a long time since we updated you on how the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) classifies aviation mechanics. The Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) is concerned about how that classification negatively affects aviation safety and the shortage of FAA certificated airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanics.
John Goglia, PAMA vice president of government and technical programs, began working to achieve these goals in 1997 while he was a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. Goglia, along with Bill O'Brien, FAA national resource specialist for maintenance, delivered a presentation to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Revision Policy Committee on Feb. 9, 1998, arguing the merits of establishing an SOC code specifically for FAA certificated A&P mechanics. The committee was receptive, but the logistics of the change required a modification of the national census database. Because the database for the 2000 census had already been written, it would have cost more than $100,000 to make the change. The money was not available and it ended there.
However, the concept was perceived as having merit and Goglia and O'Brien were encouraged to resubmit their request and justifications in the 2005 timeframe for the 2010 census. And PAMA has begun anew the process of establishing its own labor code.
A&P mechanics are currently included under the general Standard Occupational Classification "Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians," which is a subset of the Major Group, "Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations." This subset group classification of certificated and noncertificated mechanics and service technicians has a huge negative effect on safety by preventing our industry from knowing how many certificated A&Ps are actually working in the industry and where they are located. It is within the Major Group, as its own subset, that PAMA wants to see "FAA Certificated Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics" specifically classified.
Impact on safety
The FAA cannot reliably tell us how many A&Ps there are working in aviation and therefore cannot accurately forecast future supply. This directly impacts safety. Mechanics with airframe and/or powerplant ratings have privileges that allow them to return aircraft to service. Service technicians do not. Certificated A&P mechanics are highly educated, receiving the equivalent of a bachelor's degree through FAR Part 147 aviation maintenance technician education programs. Service technicians do not. The essence of airworthiness is built on a strong foundation of maintenance excellence performed by professionals with FAA certification. While few can argue against the merits of putting warm bodies on certain noncritical or specifically targeted tasks, the use of noncertificated service technicians will never be an argument in support of improving aviation safety.
Use of certificated and noncertificated
Our industry is evolving and the need for ensuring enough qualified certificated professionals to oversee this mushrooming noncertificated workforce is growing. While many aviation businesses do use noncertificated technicians in the back shops or to work on aircraft under the auspices of FAA certificated mechanics, we have already seen aviation accidents where not enough certificated people were available to advise and train those that need information. That trend will continue as fewer and fewer certificated mechanics become available.
Effect on growth
As aviation businesses begin to feel the impact of fewer certificated mechanics, their ability to grow or add efficiency will be negatively affected. Establishing our own SOC code will allow us to better understand the depth of the shortage and prepare us to focus increased educational opportunities and scholarships in the affected geographic regions. A labor code that recognizes only FAA certificated mechanics will provide the critical information business needs to efficiently and profitably expand.
The Labor Department classification of "aircraft mechanics and service technicians" has been on the books for many years. Back when our airports were only fenced to keep the deer off the runway and the glamour of flight was enough to draw sufficient mechanically savvy technicians into our profession, the effect of our generic labor classification was minimized.
Times have changed
To maintain modern aircraft, mechanics must be both technically adept and highly educated. The airport fences now have barbed wire and closed circuit video monitoring. The romance of aviation, while still present, can no longer be relied upon to attract sufficient young professionals to our industry. Establishing our own SOC is an important step toward assuring we have enough aviation maintenance professionals to assure the safety of our fleet.
There is also a long-standing impression among aviation mechanics that their occupation is classified as "semi-skilled" or "unskilled" by the DoL. Unfortunately, this is effectively true. Labor maintains that it bases its groupings in part on its industry sector or function, not on skill level. In fact, you will not find a "skilled" or "unskilled" classification anywhere in the code. By classifying FAA certificated mechanics together with non-certificated service technicians, DoL has effectively classified everyone at the lower skilled, noncertificated level.
PAMA is working hard to educate the flying public, our government, and the aviation community on the important role that only FAA certificated mechanics can play in assuring aviation safety. Personal pride, technical excellence, and FAA certification is the hallmark of an aviation maintenance professional.
Stay strong! AMT