By Stephen P. Prentice
Catch-22 . . . a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem . . . Websters. Reference: "Catch-22," by Joe Heller.
Anyone who has read Joe Heller's popular book would agree that it is entertaining and created a sort of pop philosophy of life. The story has many gems including of course the philosophy of the Catch-22.
Joe Heller's Capt. Yossarian for example maintained that a pilot who was willing to fly a bombing mission must be crazy, and therefore should not be allowed to fly, but a pilot who did not want to fly was considered sane and therefore fit to fly . . . go figure.
The dictionary relates a common show business axiom as follows: "no work unless you have an agent, no agent unless you've worked." Sound familiar?
A recent discussion with a furloughed mechanic brought up the subject of training and the need to pursue it vigorously.
In today's airline employment arena one generally must have "large jet" experience to get into the airline maintenance business. You all have seen the ads in the trade magazines
. . . minimum two years experience Garrett and PT6 turboprops
. . . minimum four years helicopter maintenance
. . . DC9, Boeing experienced mechanics
. . . experienced jet mechanic wanted, etc., etc.
But, if you can't get a job without the experience, where do you get the experience? It fits the classic definition of the Catch-22.
Where does a guy with no experience on this type of air carrier or general aviation equipment get the experience needed to apply for such jobs? The military does offer some answers, but with the obvious investment of enlistment.
Many airlines and other operators have tightened up their operations since the Sept. 11 tragedy and furloughed employees including many mechanics. Thousands have been let go due to the recent downturn. Out of work mechanics as well as new entrants into the field are having difficulty finding any employment and without experience in specific areas it becomes extra hard. The task of finding employment in certain areas of the country is formidable.
Well, one way to protect your ability to gain employment is to acquire as much formal maintenance training as you can. Invest in the training yourself. If you are out of work and have the ability to attend a formal class on an aircraft or engine series be sure to do so. Canvas the big maintenance training providers, i.e. Flight Safety, CAE SimuFlite, Bombardier, and don't forget to include engine manufacturers in your search. In many instances a sympathetic training manager may be able to assist you in both gaining the training and networking to find you a place to use your newfound training. You have to ask!
Don't forget the training you can get at various industry seminars, like PAMA, NBAA, etc. Many opportunities to pick up on new developments can be had by attending the update sessions. From there you can seek assistance from various instructors on where to acquire additional training. As you build a record of training, keep a detailed listing for inclusion in your resume. A detailed listing of your academic, seminar, and industry training will go a long way toward convincing human resources that you are right for the job.
Computer use and training
I am still amazed at the number of mechanics that are not computer literate. I keep hearing statements like . . . "I don't need to know that." Nothing could be farther from the truth.
If you are not computer literate you should get going in this area immediately. More and more training opportunities are out there, but most require basic knowledge of and use of computers. Many of the airframe and powerplant training schools, for example, use computer-based training systems and more will follow.
Basic computer training can be acquired at most community colleges for a small investment. Many computer stores include free training with the purchase of a computer. Computer use is a must in today's aircraft maintenance world.
The best reason to be computer literate is to take advantage of systems that are now provided on-line by some schools and airframe and engine companies. You can obtain training computer discs or borrow them from corporate libraries for home use. Many of the formal maintenance schools now offer on-line home study classes that can certainly look good on your resume when presenting yourself to human resources.
Air carrier training
Those of us in the air carrier business all know that FAR 121 and 135 have requirements for on-the-job recurrent training. This training is mandatory, but many quality control managers relate that these training requirements are frequently ignored or given little emphasis.
When air carriers lay off or furlough technicians some suggest that they should allow these personnel to enroll in recurrent maintenance training programs that would be provided by the carrier. What better use of time? There would be no substantial cost to the carrier and most of these employees would have access to minimal income from unemployment insurance. This type of program would accomplish two purposes: it would provide an opportunity for the mechanic to enhance his or her education at a convenient time and would also provide a pool of trained, ready to work, technicians when the need arises.
The costs of this off-work training program might also be supported by the various unions representing the mechanics. A joint effort to keep the laid-off employees up-to-date and current would pay off when they are recalled and activity builds.
Get IA certified
The most important way that a mechanic can enhance job opportunities is to acquire inspection authority (IA).
I am often surprised by the number of mechanics I meet that don't have any interest in acquiring IA. Whether you work at an air carrier or in a repair station you should seek such authority. Part 65 describes the process.
Certification gives you an additional level of competence and could be compared to a master inspector level. It means you have taken the extra steps and have the experience to certify airworthiness in accord with the FAR.
Those holding IA have extensive powers, including: certifying airworthiness or grounding aircraft; approving data; performing annual inspections on GA aircraft; and approving for return to service major repairs and major alterations.
Some refer to those holding IA as walking repair stations.
There are of course annual renewal requirements to continue to hold your IA. Many who work for air carriers or repair stations suggest that they don't have the opportunity to sign off annuals and therefore don't need or want IA certification. The fact is you don't have to complete any annual inspections to hold your IA. You need only attend an eight-hour recurrent training session once a year in order to renew your authority.
Finally, the ability to move your IA from one area to another (FSDO) gives the IA freedom to move from place to place as the job market changes.
Remember, continuing education in aircraft maintenance is a must. It can be provided in many forms that include such things as: factory training, vendor training (e.g. Aviall, API, etc.), employer recurrent, FAA and industry seminars, community college tech schools, and self-study programs to name the most popular.
As stated above, training seminars are one of the best sources for building industry contacts. These contacts can be your best source of information about employment opportunities. The combination of industry contacts and continuing education is the answer to the mechanics' employment Catch-22.
Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an Airframe and Powerplant certificate and is an ATP rated pilot. He worked with Western Airlines and the Allison Division of GMC in Latin America, servicing commercial and military overhaul activities and is a USAF veteran.